By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany West news
SLIDELL – Joel Wood and Greg Gibson were all smiles as they sat in the new Slidell Hooters restaurant last week.
And it wasn’t for the reason you might think.
Wood and Gibson happen to be co-owners for Hooters, which opened at 1776 Gause Blvd. to bring the first Hooters to St. Tammany Parish. The restaurant was immediately experiencing packed crowds.
The two men are longtime business partners who were smiling from the excitement they felt in viewing this Hooters restaurant, which is the first of its kind in Louisiana with a state-of-the-art design and atmosphere.
“We think this new design is really fantastic and very contemporary,” Wood said. “We used to have an open kitchen everyone could see, but that has changed, and now we have a large rectangular bar in the middle, in front of a huge TV.”
The biggest TV is an 82-square foot video wall that has four 70-inch TV’s on the sides, while there are 55 TV’s in the entire restaurant! You really have to see it to believe it.
Wood and Gibson were in Slidell to launch the opening for the Hooters here, which is the 10th in Louisiana, where the men are the franchise owners.
Their story about getting their start with a Hooters franchise is a good one, proving again that most business success stories start with the right relationships.
Wood said that he and Gibson were living in Atlanta in the late 80s, where he worked with a software company and Gibson had been coaching football at the college level, before starting a sports marketing company. Gibson is the son of former Tulane head football coach Vince Gibson.
“We were like a lot of guys in our early 30s,” Wood said. “We were trying to find the way to some real success in business.”
They enjoyed going to the Hooters in Atlanta, and decided to try and secure a franchise.
“We sent a letter to the corporate office, but they wrote us back and immediately denied us, saying we had no experience at all in the restaurant business,” he said.
But Wood got the break he and his buddy needed, coming from a most unlikely place.
“I was trying to get a girl to go to Hooters with me, but she said she wouldn’t go unless I came to church with her. So we finally agreed, and after dating for a while, she mentioned that one of the original owners of Hooters was a friend of her neighbor’s,” Wood said.
The woman arranged a meeting for Wood and Gibson with Ed Droste, known as one of the “Original Six,” who founded Hooters. That led to a plane trip to Florida for the weekend to meet the other founders, where the young businessmen apparently impressed the owners of Hooters.
“We spent the weekend drinking beer and talking a lot, and by Sunday night, they said we would move to the front of the list,” Wood said. “When we signed the contract for our first Hooters in Metairie, we met the corporate president at the airport and signed it on a cocktail napkin.”
It was 1990 when the men started their first Hooters in Metairie, after soliciting financial backing from friends and relatives, since it cost approximately $500,000 to open the restaurant—adding up franchise fees and construction costs.
Wood said they made “a lot of mistakes” at the beginning, even though attendance was good, and after overcoming their early inexperience, the Hooters restaurant on Veteran’s Highway took off, and is still in operation today, doing great.
Since that time, they opened other Hooters restaurants in Lafayette, West Monroe, Bossier City, Houma, Gretna, Denham Springs and two in Baton Rouge.
“The thing we have learned is that success comes from sticking to the basics, and hiring great people,” he said. “We’ve got some outstanding employees who have been with us many years.”
But he also acknowledged that Hooters has something no other restaurant has, and that is the “Hooters girls.”
“Probably the biggest misconception about Hooters is that it’s just a place for guys,” Wood said. “We probably have as many women and families come as we have men. We’re really very community minded and our Hooters girls are more than just waitresses. They are ambassadors in the community for us since they get invited to attend a lot of social events.”
The opening VIP night for Hooters included a $10 entry fee, with all money going to Slidell’s Community Christian Concern.
“The Hooters girls may get a lot of attention since we specifically want to hire friendly, attractive women, but folks will find that our restaurants are successful because we always have a friendly face to greet you, a clean restaurant and bathrooms, great food and service, and a thank you as you leave,” he explained. “We try to always remind ourselves about sticking to the basics.”
Gibson said he and Wood have made a 22-year business relationship work, but still have to blink to realize where they are today.
“Opening our 10th Hooters makes me sometimes think it is a little shocking to remember it has been 22 years since we started. We still have such a good partnership,” Gibson said, “and that’s not easy to do.”