Edward C. Droste Interview
(Co-Founder of Hooters Restaurants)

Edward C. Droste is the Co-Founder and partner of Hooters Restaurants which originated in Clearwater, Florida in 1983.
Hooters currently has over 380 units open nationwide (the United States) with sales of more than $700 million annually and consistently ranks as one of the nations fastest growing chains.
Mr. Droste talked with us recently about his background, the early days of Hooters Restaurant(s) and what he sees in the days ahead for the co.

Q – I would imagine that if you’re Edward Droste and the co-founder of Hooters, the sun is shining everyday for you in Clearwater.
A – (Laughs). It’s not a bad job and hasn’t been for 21 years.

Q – I see Hooters is opening a casino in Las Vegas.
A – Yes. It’s exciting.

Q – When will that open?
A – Well, we’ve actually purchased a current, existing casino called the San Ramo. A great, great location. A great little 700 unit hotel casino, on Tropicana Blvd. right across from the MGM Grand. We’ll be launching a high-yield band operation in 30-60 days to fund the renovation. We’ll probably spend about $75 million (dollars) in total renovation of the current property. Then I would say we’ll probably Grand-open it January – February of next year (2006) as the Hooters Casino Hotel.

Q – Is this an idea of yours that you’ve been kicking around for awhile?
A – Yeah. Two or three years ago we finally sold our trademark to our licensee in Atlanta-----Hooters of America. I would say maybe it’s even 4 or 5 years ago. And, we carved out some things we wanted to keep for ourselves. One of them being, we thought it was a natural, to some time bring that whole care-free, tasteful sex appeal, fun-loving, beach theme to a casino arena. So, we carved that out. We’ve kept Hooters Foods. We’re probably in 10,000 plus grocery stores with our food products and we kept the rights to our Hooters calendars which my co. Provident Advertising produces. And we kept the rights at that time, to do a Hooters movie. The one that’s got the most legs now is clearly the casino. We started looking for sights probably two, three years ago and had some serious negotiations on a few locations. Then this thing finally became available and it was a natural and we knew it when we saw it basically.

Q – Before I get into the operation of Hooters, I’d like to ask you about your own background. You majored in Industrial Administration and Political Science. What is Industrial Administration and what were you looking to do with that degree?
A – (Laughs). It was basically Iowa State’s answer to a Business Degree. The other university, Iowa, had the corner on the true business school. It was basically their general business degree and also one of the easiest curriculums. I had a 2.3 grade average, so I wasn’t sky in the scholarly levels in college. The area that I was most enjoyed in that curriculum was marketing. I had a marketing emphasis in the Industrial Administration program and really started dabbling there with the idea of concept development, brand marketing and then advertising and promoting.

Q – A degree like that would suit you well at Hooters.
A – Oh, totally. It’s been a fun opportunity to be able to go in a million different directions with something.

Q – You then joined Home Corp. and became Vice-President of a Management Subsidiary. What were you doing there?
A – Well, it was U.S. Home Corp. They were the nation’s largest home builder at that time. Frankly, it was the only job offer I got and it was through a fraternity brother (laughs), in Florida. It was with their port builders division which built high-rise luxury condominiums. Once they were built, they needed to have a co. that would manage them. I was hired and put in charge of their high-rise properties in the west coast of Florida, in the Tampa Bay area and quickly was entrenched in real estate property management for many, many years.

Q – Then you left U.S. Home Corp. to form your own business-----Provident Management Corp. which specializes in resort management.
A – Yeah.

Q – What resorts do you manage?
A – When I left, I was lured away by many of the big lenders-----Chase Manhattan Bank,
Continental Bank that had taken back a ton of properties in the late 70’s through foreclosures or whatever. The co. I formed which became Provident Management was formulated to basically do workouts for all those developer leaders that acquired all this property throughout Florida. I went from 2 employees to 200 employees in 2 years. As it unfolded we ended up converting a couple of hotels and really liked that. We would convert hotels to condominium hotels. That’s the area we chose to go in. That’s what we do now. On the Provident side of things we manage a property, about 250 units down in the Keys called Ocean Point. In Coconut Grove we have the muting which is a luxury condo, a boutique hotel. And then in Tampa we have the Sailport Condominiums, 237 units right on Tampa Bay that we manage and have managed for almost 25 years.

Q – So, where then did this idea come from to start a Hooters Restaurant?
A – Well, after we did all those work outs (for developers), we started doing a lot of rental conversions, throughout Florida. We’d be out on the road and we’d sample chicken wings down in Ft. Lauderdale-----and those steak sandwiches are really good here!! One of our employees, when we would do charity softball tournaments, would wear dolphin shorts and a tank top. We’d say, boy, if we could ever combine those elements of a restaurant and put girls like her in that, just as a catalyst for fun and excitement-----we’d have a homerun!! That’s what we started doing there. We started piecing together different elements. Oysters from the Carolina area. Shrimp from the Tarpin Springs area. Basically, got it together with a concept and started looking for sites; most of the guys involved with Provident at that time, in some associate form or another. In our spare time we’d just go looking for sites. Actually, my ex-wife found the site here in Clearwater. We negotiated. There had been 5 other restaurants and they all had failed. They had all gone under. Everyone said we would too. We acquired the lease interest to it and started to lay out the design work. No experience in the restaurant business. There were six of us and none of us had any restaurant experience.

Q – Restaurants are a very risky business.
A – Oh. totally. We got tired of hearing how many businesses used to be there and how many of them failed. Just to have fun with it ourselves, we put a cemetery out in front of the restaurant and put tombstones up with the names of the businesses that had come before us. The elements there-----the casual dining, the neighborhood, kind of the mid-western feel, where everybody knowing your name, and the chicken wings and the shrimp and the oysters all came together to provide a fun atmosphere. But then, we put together a marketing (plan) through my Provident entity, a marketing program that was really revolutionary to the industry. No one had ever gone out in the community like we did whether it was radio appearances or charitable appearances. Nobody made fun of themselves like we did. We did a lot of wacky stuff to gain attention and let people know we’re tongue-in-cheek, let your hair down type of thing.

Q – How was business when you opened?
A – It was absolutely dead. Two of my partners were Italian and I would come in at noon and pray for cars. There were many times when we would have 3 customers in the place and 4 gorgeous girls wiping down the windows. They would look to me and say-----well, you’re the genius! You’re the guy who created this thing, and came up with the concept, and said you’d market it and make it happen, and we ain’t seen nothing yet! So, I pretty well dug in. That’s when I created Provident Advertising and Marketing which is a subsidiary of Provident. I know the store had to be heavily promotion oriented as opposed to some restaurants that just kind of open up and take out an ad once in awhile. We did a Billboard with Lynne Austin, the first girl we hired, a substantial billboard. I, in desperation created a chicken costume for a week-end and waved traffic in, which actually kind of worked a little bit. We had a Superbowl come to town which we capitalized on and helped quite a bit. We had a special promotion on that, the weekend before and the weekend of. I did some direct mail to a lot of magazines in the country and one of ‘em Playboy responded and said-----“We love your restaurant, but, we really love your girl (Lynne Austin). We’d like to do a feature on her”. So, they made her a Playmate. Then, the whole centerfold featured Lynne and Hooters which gave us great exposure.

Q – What year was that?
A – That was in 1986.

Q – Your partners in Hooters were men or women?
A – All men. But, our wives were partners indirectly. So, then they would help. They would help in some of the promotions. They had a lot of fun with it at the openings.

Q – When you opened that first restaurant, did you get any negative feedback from women?
A – Oddly enough, not really at all. The Hooters connection thing wasn’t really out there. Back in the early 80’s, there wasn’t that big politically correct movement. People often ask me, did we open it to be controversial-----and, we really didn’t. We just wanted to bring a little bit of the beach island and combine it with some mid-western hospitality and care-free attitude and then throw in some fun, vivacious cheerleader type girls just to provide some energy. We put some jokes out there that would be self-effacing just for the fun of it. But, we really didn’t intend to create controversy. We really didn’t experience any negativism for the first couple years namely because we were below the radar, but, also I think society wasn’t sensitive to it at that time.

Q – Did you ever try to get actor Ed O’Neill (Al Bundy-----“Married With Children”) as a spokesperson for Hooters?
A – I don’t recall. Different people have approached us, different agents have. Lynne Austin was on “Married With Children” a bunch of times. Later on, after some of her appearances there would be some Hooters mention in the dialogue. In fact, I think one of the characters came home in a Hooters uniform. So, there was interaction there. But, I don’t believe we ever got to serious contract discussions. Now, we have with others over time. We still chat with John Dailey over some sponsorships. Terry Bradshaw is doing a Super Bowl promotion with us right now. Brook Burke is going to be our national spokesperson for the next 3 or 4 months. There have been a lot of Hooters girls who have gone on to become semi-famous too in their own right.

Q – What did some of the other Hooters girls go on to do?
A – Hedi Marke went on to star in “Loveboat Two”. One of our local girls is appearing on “Fear Factor” as a Hooters girl. They appear in all kinds of different capacities. Some are proud to proclaim they’re a former Hooters girl and some just state they were a waitress.

Q – Hooters is supposed to be the fastest growing chain in the U.S.-----but, how about overseas-----do you have any restaurants there?
A – Yeah. I don’t know if we’re the fastest growing right now. We have been (for) a number of years. It could be we’re back up there again. It just depends on what else is going on in the industry. We just opened a store in China. We’ve got stores in Tapei, England, Austria, Argentina, Mexico City, probably about 20 different countries. Hooters website would probably have a good listing of all those too.

Q – Do you personally visit each and every Hooters restaurant?
A – I did a lot in the beginning. In the first couple of years we’d go to every opening. Now, there’s openings every week and it’s hard to get to ‘em. A lot of the folks in Atlanta will do that. I don’t do that as much anymore. Neither do my partners. We’ll go to events where we have national swimwear pageants. We’ve got 4 franchise meetings a year in really fun locations. There’s appearances we’ll have on different sports things. We do a lot with Super Bowl. When I’m in a town, I’ll try to hit some of the stores. But, I haven’t made a lot of openings in the last few years.

Q – Do you ever go into the restaurants incognito?
A – I always do. I don’t do it to catch anybody. I do it just to settle in and get a feel for the atmosphere. Unlike a lot of restaurants, these are not cookie-cutter things. There’s probably 400 restaurants and none of them are the same layout or floor plan. They all have their own atmospheres. Some of the beach ones are a little more laid back. Same with the city ones. They’re a little more formal and uptight. But, it’s fun to get the feel of the place. They have their own personality. When the girls in there interact with the manager and the customers-----they all take on their own little twist. And, I like to experience those. I’ll make notes. I never try to go in and reprimand. I try to be supportive. Sometimes during the visit we’ll ask the girl to grab the manager ‘cause I would never want them to think we’re sneaking and spying. We’ll have a nice chat with them, and sometimes they’re blown away. Oh, my god-----look who we’ve got sitting out in the restaurant right now!!

Q – You’re also involved in running a number of other restaurant businesses.
A – One of the things Provident does is-----we have a creative staff. We’ve created or consulted on the creation of a number of other concepts. One of them being Adobe Gilas. We started from scratch on that one and just came up with the whole concept-----layout, design, everything. We participated in the creation of Pete and Shorty’s Tavern which is a great little new soon to be expanded mid-western tavern. The whole little joint thing, with Shorty burgers which are like little White Castle things-----pork tenderloins. It’s just a great little mid-western joint tavern. Nobody’s ever done that on a national basis, so that’s exciting. We’ve participated in a concept called Splitsville which is really dynamic. It’s a 20,000 square foot-----I want to say eclectic bowling basically. It’s 12 bowling lanes all going in different directions at different elevations with bars in between ‘em and sushi and fine dining. It’s just basically Yuppie kind of bowling which is doing just great. We participated in creating Stump’s (Supper Club) concept. Tina Tapa’s concept.

Q – What’s that?
A – A Spanish Tapas restaurant. There’s only one of those right now, but, we’re excited about it.

Q – And you’re involved in Dan Marino’s Town Tavern.
A – Yeah, we worked on the initial stages of that and did some marketing for it now.

Q – Where will those be opening?
A – Mostly Florida. In fact, I guess principally Florida. Splitsville and Pete and Shorty’s will probably be expanding pretty soon outside of Florida. Adobe Gila’s is in Columbus, Ohio.

Q – You produce a 2 hour radio show?
A – That’s the Sport Chicks. It’s basically ex-Hooters girls predominantly. Lynne Austin actually is one of the stars of it. They were on the ESPN Network. It’s mostly sports talk. They get all the celebrities on their show.

Q – You’re going to produce a motion picture?
A – Well, we’ve got a script. This has been a fun, frustrating project. We’ve gone down the road with 3 or 4 major groups in L.A. Each time we’ve backed out mainly because their version of how they wanted to portray the Hooters thing-----We want it to be more of a slap-stick, fun, light-hearted, very humorous, much like oh. M.A.S.H. Like a combination of Cheers with Friends. They wanted to take it towards the little bouncing girls in a hot tub kind of twist. More like Porky’s. We’re just biding our time on that. We’ll probably pursue that more aggressively. We’ve invested quite a bit over the years. We’ve been in a lot of lawyering regarding development rights. It’s just a nightmare. We’re really enjoying the casino thing a lot more than those efforts lately.

Q – If the casino is a hit-----will you then move into Atlantic City?
A – Yeah, well, never say never. We know what we’re up against. We’re trying to surround ourself with the best. We know what we don’t know, so, we’re not thinking far beyond that and just getting it in and making sure it’s successful.

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