“Breastaurants”—sports bars and restaurants featuring buxom waitresses in skimpy outfits as the main attraction—are among the few flush businesses multiplying fast in these troubled economic times. But Hooters, the iconic chain that started it all, where the all-female staff slings burgers and wings in tight, orange hot shorts and low-cut tank tops, seems to be the exception to the rule.
The chain’s lone Queens restaurant, in Fresh Meadows, closed in October, along with the only three on Long Island following a franchise dispute. That leaves only one left in all of New York City, in midtown Manhattan.
“They haven’t been aggressive in growing the brand,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of the food industry research and consulting firm Technomic, who explained that Hooters, still the undisputed industry leader, has been lax in updating its look and physical locations. “These newer restaurants that are opening are more contemporary and have a better use of technology.”
Recently opened “breastaurants” seem to be doing quite well by appealing primarily to young men with reasonably priced burgers and beers, large flat screens turned to sports games and super-attentive, well-endowed waitresses flaunting their assets, he said.
“There are so many new chains opening that it’s helping [the industry] to grow,” Tristano said.
Ed McCabe, a lawyer for the Strix Restaurant Group, the franchisee that ran the Queens and Long Island Hooters, called the chain “stale” and said the restaurant didn’t appeal to local customers. Strix was sued by Hooters of America for violating its franchise agreement. Strix plans to counter-sue, McCabe said.
“Hooters has a lousy menu. They’ve done nothing to update the way the girls dress,” he said. “It hasn’t changed in 20 years.”
But parent company Hooters of America officials said the chain plans to open a new location in Manhattan by the end of 2012. Hooters is also in talks to open five new restaurants on Long Island.
Hooters, which opened in 1983, has about 430 restaurants in about two dozen countries.
But Kathy Hayden, a food service analyst at Mintel, a market research group, said Hooters is “an aging brand” and now faces increased competition from a myriad of smaller spin-offs.
“The problem with a Hooters-type place is you’re going to have a hard time appealing to families,” she said. “Hooters is also known for business travel and expense accounts and those things are also in the decline right now.”
But Hooters’ misfortune could be a boon to many of the newer sports bars hoping to lure in customers with extensive beer lists, inexpensive fried food and scantily clad waitresses.
“Business is showing great growth,” said Tim Lorito, owner of CANZaciti Roadhouse, which opened a “breastaurant” two years ago in Astoria, Queens, and has another two on Long Island. “People are more inclined to buy burgers, wings, sandwiches at a lower price right now, because of what today’s economy looks like.”
He plans to expand CANZaciti, where waitresses wear denim shorts and tank tops, to downtown Brooklyn, near the Barclays Center, and Westchester.
“Breastaurants are the fastest growing segment of the restaurant business,” Lorito said. “It’s the only part of the restaurant business that in the last five years is showing extreme growth.”