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Thursday, March 7, 2002

Hooters restaurant causes controversy in Arlington

Associated Press Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - Opposition from a neighborhood group that helped block a beer permit didn't stop a new Hooters from opening as scheduled Wednesday.

The newest restaurant in the national chain, featuring waitresses clad in low-cut tank tops and tight shorts, will offer free beer until a judge rules next week on Hooters' appeal to get a beer license.

"We have a right to be here, and we're not going away," said Scott Wilkinson, vice president of Texas Wings, the franchise that runs the 27 Hooters restaurants in Texas, including another one in Arlington.

Each customer over age 21 can have up to two free beers. Hooters legally could give away as much beer as it wants but is being responsible, Wilkinson said, adding that 70 percent of the restaurant's sales is food.

Among the eatery's lunch crowd Wednesday were some Arlington firefighters whose T-shirts bore the message: "Mr. Zedler, I am not a sexual predator."

Bill Zedler and others formed Decency for Arlington last summer to fight the new Hooters from opening in a shopping area near their southwest neighborhood.

Zedler, a Republican state representative candidate, has said the restaurant could attract sexual predators, referring to psychologists' testimony in an October court hearing on Hooters' beer permit application.

"We don't want this in our community," said Barry D. Johnson, Decency for Arlington co-chairman.

Opposition is nothing new to many of the 300-plus Hooters restaurants nationwide.

In fact, a new Frisco Hooters besieged by protests in 2000 offered free beer for a few weeks until its beer license was approved. The eatery now has more customers on "kids eat free" Saturdays than any other Hooters in Texas.

Officials at Hooters of America Inc. in Atlanta don't deny that sex appeal is part of the gimmick for the restaurant chain, founded in Florida in 1983 with the motto "delightfully tacky, yet unrefined."

Wilkinson says the eatery has "cleaned up" its image in recent years by catering to families and sponsoring community little-league teams.

Some say they are surprised by protests in Arlington, the state's seventh-largest city with more than 330,000 residents. The city located between Dallas and Fort Worth has more than a dozen sexually oriented businesses, including topless and nude bars.

"When you compare Hooters to what people see at swimming pools, sporting events with cheerleaders and magazine racks at any grocery store _ give me a break," Wilkinson said.

But Johnson says the company sells sexually suggestive merchandise and is associated with pornography. Several waitresses have posed nude for Playboy magazine.

Decency for Arlington members say Hooters' atmosphere could corrupt students at the nearby high school _ and attract sex offenders.

"I wouldn't want my wife to go to (the nearby drug store) to fill a prescription late at night because of the kind of men she might run into in the parking lot," Johnson said.

Next week, State District Judge Bob McCoy is to rule on Hooters' beer license. On Monday, he threw out last week's decision by a visiting judge who approved the permit.

Hooters had sued in McCoy's court after County Judge Tom Vandergriff in October denied the restaurant a beer permit.

"The place of the proposed Hooters in a heavily residential area coupled with its sexually alluring suggestive or provocative manner of doing business does not comport with the local sense of decency or morals," Vandergriff wrote.

But not all businesses near the new Hooters anticipate problems.

"I don't see that it's going to be that big of a deal," said Samantha Skiff, co-owner of AquaWorld Spas. "The parking lot has been kind of empty, so we're hoping this brings us more name exposure."


On the Net:

Hooters of Texas: http://www.hooterstexas.com

Hooters: http://www.hootersofamerica.com

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