The restaurant chain Hooters had the market cornered when it came to affordable food and a scantily clad, attractive wait staff. Lately, however, competition is, well, busting out all over the place. Imitation chains such as Twin Peaks and Bone Daddy's are both flourishing, as is the original.
While the downturn in the economy has forced many chain restaurants to close, Hooters brought in a billion dollars in sales in 2008, a 2 percent increase from 2007.
"Business is good," said Mike Herrick, the company's vice president. "It's the great escape ... You come here when you get a job, you come here when you get a pink slip."
Herrick says it's a fun line of work.
"You walk around today and you wouldn't know we are in our worst time since the '30s. ... You wouldn't know that in Hooters today," he said.
Brittany Johnson, who works as a waitress at a Hooters in South Arlington, Texas, said, "Honestly, the reason people come here and they don't stop coming here is because of the economy. They have so much on their mind ... they want to get away. They might not have the money to go to Florida or California, so they go to a nice environment like this and talk to nice girls like us."
Laci Law, 22, another waitress, admitted, "there are pretty faces here," but added that "the food is really great."
One customer, Wes Williams, said he doesn't feel like a sexist pig because he patronizes Hooters.
"A pig, yes," he said. "But not sexist."
Said Law: "I've been asked if I'm embarrassed to work here ... 'What does your dad think?' Well, my dad was just in here yesterday, so what do you want me to say?"
And it's not just dads. A lot of moms show up, too. Hooters says more than 30 percent of its customers are women, drawn in part by a menu where it's tough to find anything costing more than $10.
"The food's got to be good to justify coming ... because the first thing your wife or girlfriend will ask you is, 'Are you just there for the girls?'" said another male customer. "No, it's the food. Why don't you go too?"
That may explain why down the street from the Hooters franchise in South Arlington you'll find Bone Daddy's, where the women wear even less and serve up a similar menu of food and flirtation.
"The girls that work here are drop-dead gorgeous and as friendly as you want them to be," said Bone Daddy's founder Mike Leatherwood, who just opened his fourth franchise. "If I had a 19-year-old daughter ... this is the only placed I'd want her to work, because I know how committed we are to creating a great environment to work in."
Leatherwood expects that each Bone Daddy's location will bring in more than $6 million in 2009.
"This restaurant has been insanely busy from the minute we opened," said the bartender, Allison Bingham, 22. "I don't think [the recession is] affecting us. I think the way we take care of people, the atmosphere, nobody else can do what we do, and I think that's what sells, and I think people set out a budget to what they do and then they come spend it here."
Leatherwood believes his restaurants are recession-proof because, while the food is good, the service may be even better.