Ed Droste Interview

Give a Hoot for Entrepreneurs:
Interview with
Hooter’s Co-founder
Ed Droste

Ed Droste is one of the six co-founders of Hooters Restaurants. Ed recently called from Clearwater, Florida (home of the first Hooters) to discuss how Hooters began, the new Hooters casino, and the first Hooters girls.

How did you come up with the concept for Hooters?

It was myself and five other guys; we call the Hooters Six that ended up in Florida from mostly Midwestern areas. We recognized that there was not a lot of neighborhood kind of places like we used to experience in the Midwest, and we thought if we could combine the neighborhood dining thing-tavern with the beach experience that you get when you go to the Florida beaches, to get that casual, comfortable experience, then we thought we might have something. We added some menu items to it that were successful around the country: Oyster rows from the Carolinas, chicken wings from down in Fort Lauderdale. We said ‘Hey, if we can combine some good food items, other people’s signature items, with this neighborhood and beach atmosphere, and then throw in like the beach the Hooters Girls and we’d have a combination the public couldn’t refuse.’

Are you surprised by the sheer success of this idea?

Obviously, when we did one we didn’t think we would have a worldwide chain. We had a feeling we would have some fun with it. A year into it, when there are two hour waits to get into the restaurant, you pretty much got the feeling that we might have a homerun here.

Did you have a lot of backing when you started Hooters?

Only our own, and we didn’t put much into it. We only invested like $140,000. It was just a dive that we took over, so there wasn’t really any expense there. We just all threw our own money in and did a lot of the work ourselves to keep it down. We never really had investors.

You still don’t have investors do you?

We don’t at our level. Now, at the franchise level and at the national expansion level some folks have invested. We’re still not a public company, it’s still at all levels pretty much privately held.

Have you visited all of the Hooters locations?

No, not as many as I would like. I bet I’ve only been to probably a quarter of them. There’s some thirty-to-forty international, and there’s just no way of keeping up with them. Most of our customers have been to more [Hooters] than I have been to.

Are there some places where a Hooters just won’t work?

There was a store in Nassau, Bahamas that didn’t do real well. I think it could’ve done well there. I think a Hooters can be made to work anywhere if you do it right. We have them in the fanciest of cities, we have them in college towns now, we have them in retirement areas. I think I can make them fit about anywhere. You have to have a certain amount of population base though. What we’re most excited about now is [that] we’ve bought a casino in Las Vegas.

That’s awesome.

It’s currently running as the San Remo on Tropicana, but we are going to be spending forty to fifty million dollars to convert it to the Hooters Hotel and Casino. It’s going to be neat as hell-we’re going to have a Dan Marino’s restaurant there, we are just going to have a lot of cool stuff.

How’s the airline (Hooters Air) working out?

They are expanding every month and we’d like to see them expand to a Las Vegas connection too. Fly on a Hooters plane to the Hooters casino.

How did you pick the first Hooters Girls?

The first girl, Lynn Austin, she ended up being on our billboard and she ended up being in Playboy magazine. I said ‘whoever wins this Jose Cuvero bikini contest, I’ll hire her to be our first girl.’ They bet me that I couldn’t get her to come and work for us. Actually, she was currently employed, but about a month later she called and said she would love to come and work. So, we put her on the billboard. Then we just advertised on the front of the building for applicants. Then we went out recruiting. When we’d see attractive, vivacious girls, we’d chase them down, present the concept, and handpick them.

Are their certain criteria in order to be a Hooters Girl?

We want the wholesome look, the California cheerleader, surfer look; personality can overcome a lot too. It’s just the general package of components that makes them very special and very famous.

Do you have a favorite food at Hooters?

I like the oyster rows a lot, and the buffalo shrimp. You get hooked on the chicken wings; you can’t not fall in love with them.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?

One thing that worked for me, when I was real young, was I worked for somebody else and kept my eyes open. I learned from the people around me. I believe in entrepreneurialism big time, but I also know that if I would’ve gone running out right away in my post college years, I probably would have fallen flat on my face, just from lack of experience. I became entrepreneurial within the companies that I worked for, and I really learned a lot of unique ways of looking at a business deal or marketing challenge; really on somebody else’s meter. When the time came for me to run with my own idea, I had pretty well assembled a pretty good track record of experiences. Number 1: Learn and prepare like you’re an entrepreneur, but if you can do it on somebody else’s meter, do it. The second thing would be to analyze your product very objectivity and understand what it is, and what its appeal is, and who might be interested in it. Then decide how to present your project to the market place. A lot of people just fall in love with their product and think that the whole world is going to love it. You’ve got to look at it objectivity and sleep only an hour a night. You have got to be afraid of the competition.

Did any books help you to become a better entrepreneur?

I read a lot. Most of the stuff that I read is political because we are always in some [legal] battle.

What would you like to say to critics who criticize Hooters?

When you are trying to reach as much of the public as we are, I never lock up. I try to be more understanding. I say ‘hey, I understand that we’re not for everybody.’ If some people are somewhat upset with aspects of the concept, then they have a right to be. We don’t try to be in their face, we’re not trying to be sleazy in any way. We think we bring a carefree, refreshing oasis from the everyday rigors of life. If some are not comfortable with that, that’s fine. We try to respect their opinions on it.

What other ventures are you working on?

We’ve got the casino; we’ve been working on a movie for quite awhile. We’ve got a bowling concept that we are really excited about. Twenty-one years into it, we’re only 450 restaurants, we could be to a thousand someday.

Do you have a favorite Hooters?

Obviously, the original one because it’s the one that’s always dearest to your heart. It’s where we spent all of our time in the beginning.

How would you describe yourself as a businessman?

I like to be creative, fair. The thing that I get the greatest personal thrill out of is all the community and charitable good that we’re able to do. Through the Hooters concept, it allows us to do a lot more good for folks then I could ever do individually. I would like to say that I’m a fair businessperson, but also one that gets a big thrill out of having an impact on the community.

Do you have a favorite charity?

We do a lot. We focus a lot on cancer now. The Moffitt Cancer Center; we’ve donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to. Just trying to bring some Hooters ingenuity to having an impact in finding a cure and helping those that are struggling against the disease.


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