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Maybe Hooters and Puritans don't mix

Hooters Girl Charmaine Fobbs is followed by training coach Trisha Robinson as the staff at a Hooters restaurant in Las Vegas.

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Scott Jagow: You may have heard about Dubai's push to become a big tourist destination in the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates is now number two behind Egypt. But what vacation spot would be complete without . . . a Hooters restaurant?

A Kuwaiti investor has been trying to open one in Dubai. But today, a local newspaper said it's probably not gonna happen. Apparently, the powers that be won't approve a restaurant that clashes with Muslim religion and culture.

Oh well, Americans still love their Hooters, right? I don't know . . ,a bunch of Hooters restaurants in New England have suddenly shut down. From WBUR in Boston, Curt Nickisch reports.


Curt Nickisch: No more tight tank-tops and hot orange shorts. No more specially televised swimsuit pageants above the bar. No more steamy piles of chicken wings.

In all, 12 Hooters restaurants around New England have closed their doors — and that doesn't surprise Andy Aylesworth. He's a marketing professor at Bentley College.

Andy Aylesworth: We're the home of the puritans, the Salem Witch Trials, Hahvud, Boston Bluebloods. From a demographic point of view, I'm not sure that Hooters in New England is a good fit.

For the record, Aylesworth has only been to Hooters once. He walked in the door with his 2-year-old as a joke, and then walked right out again. His wife thought it was a real . . . hoot.

But the fact that Hooters is not a family restaurant is one reason that nationally, the chain is growing, despite a downward trend in the industry. Hooters' sales ballooned more than 6 percent last year.

Scott Hume: Given the way the economy and the restaurant business is going, you know, anything over 3 percent, 4 percent in a year is a pretty good showing.

That's Scott Hume, editor of Restaurants and Institutions Magazine. He says while middle-tier restaurants like Chili's and Applebee's have been struggling lately, Hooters sales have grown to almost $1 billion annually. Because, Hume says, the restaurant offers more than a meal.

Hume: It benefits in part from being a good-time place. Let's go out, let's have some beers, let's have some chicken wings. You've got a lot of people who look at that as being an affordable luxury.

And they look at the waitresses, too. Still, here in New England, there were not enough people looking.

Mel Hoffman is an attorney who represents the owners of the bankrupt franchises here. Hoffman says it was hard to find anyone to buy them out.

Mel Hoffman: To have restaurants go dark overnight, this is a tremendous black eye for Hooters of America.

The CEO of the parent company blames the local franchise owners. He says Hooters will try to reopen in New England. And they have to, says editor Scott Hume:

Hume: It's too big a chunk of the country not to have the brand represented in it.

When Hooters does come back, marketing professor Andy Aylesworth suggests the company try a different tack, starting with the restaurant's slogan:

Aylesworth: Hooters' tagline, "Delightfully tacky, yet unrefined." What a great tagline — we're in New England. New Englanders, they like to think of themselves as refined.

Maybe the waitress uniform could use some stiff white collars and shoes with buckles to be a little more appetizing.

In Boston, I'm Curt Nickisch for Marketplace.

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