A group of protesters trying to prevent a Hooters restaurant from opening in downtown Fort Worth pulled out its own big torpedoes at an administrative hearing this week. Mayor Betsy Price, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, and Sundance Square President and CEO Johnny Campbell were among the list of witnesses called to testify by the “Say NO to Hooters in Downtown Fort Worth” group and the Downtown Fort Worth Neighborhood Committee.
Fort Worth employees say Hooters has met the code specifications required to open on the ground floor of the City Place building in what used to be Tandy Center tower. The proposed site is across the street from the Sundance West luxury apartments where Sundance Square founder Ed Bass lives. The apparent leader of the protest movement is Sasha Camacho, a local business consultant who also lives at Sundance West. Camacho and some of her fellow residents don’t want to see a brightly lit sign on a building depicting a name that is slang for women’s breasts.
The protest group is trying to stop the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission from granting a liquor license to the restaurant and sports bar.
Texas Administrative Law Judge Robert Jones is hearing the case and will make a recommendation to the TABC in the coming weeks. TABC officials can then grant or deny the liquor license to Hooters.
Among the 40 or so people who packed the small room where the hearing was held in west Fort Worth were 10 Hooters girls decked out in identical full-length orange jumpsuits with white sneakers. For the next few hours, they sat quietly and (mostly) resisted browsing on their phones or texting while listening to testimony. In much of it, complainers claimed that Hooters promoted a loud, tacky, sexual, and sexist atmosphere. In other words, the young women heard elected officials, influential business people, and downtown residents characterize them as sexually oriented workers in an immoral business.
Campbell described how downtown Fort Worth rebounded from its “dilapidated” ghost town condition in the 1970s to the jewel it is now, thanks in large part to Sundance Square, the massive revitalization project spearheaded by Bass and his influential and wealthy local business family. Nowadays, about 6,000 residents live downtown. That number is expected to triple in the coming years. Campbell said Hooters offers “beer in large containers and women in smaller containers” and doesn’t fit in with Sundance Square’s family-friendly vibe.
Hooters attorneys (three were in the room) said a dozen establishments near Hooters possess liquor licenses, including several businesses that feature waitresses who wear allegedly skimpier outfits. A policy change at Hooters in 2012 required waitresses to wear full tank tops rather than the midriff tank tops of earlier years. The attorneys pointed out that Sundance Square features college and professional cheerleaders at events in its plaza. Campbell said he didn’t find the outfits worn by Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders or TCU cheerleaders to be offensive. Besides, he said, it’s not a fair comparison –– the cheerleaders aren’t selling beer late at night.
Mayor Price did not say she wanted the TABC to prevent Hooters from getting a liquor license. But she and other City Council members have heard from many residents and downtown stakeholders who fear that Hooters will “diminish the family-friendly reputation of our downtown,” she said.
“We are incredibly proud of our downtown district,” Price said. “I believe much of the concern and protest to the restaurant is a well-intentioned effort to protect what makes Fort Worth’s downtown special, a unique and, indeed, nationally recognized destination.”
Most of the witnesses who lived downtown said they liked to go to bed early and wake up early. Having a Hooters nearby might interfere with their ZZZZs.
The Hooters attorneys said residents chose to move downtown and live near restaurants and clubs, and some of the residents have even complained about noises such as employees sweeping patios late at night.
“Have you heard the saying, you can’t move next to the pig farm and complain about the stink?,” a Hooters attorney said to Campbell.
“The pig farm is moving next to the residents,” Campbell countered.
During a break, I asked the Hooters waitresses what they thought about the testimony so far. They didn’t like being compared to floozies, and they definitely didn’t enjoy being considered the stinky part of the pig metaphor.
“We are not parallel with a pig farm,” Angel Dial said. “We’re not just animals serving hot wings.”
Hooters employees care about their customers and their communities, the young women said. Many Hooters girls put themselves through college by slinging suds and wings while also volunteering in their communities, they said.
Americans should be able to open a business as long as it meets all applicable codes and standards, said waitress Sarah Clark.
“I wish [the protestors] could come in and experience what I get to experience every day, the fun I have, the people I meet, the lives I get to change,” Clark said. “If they could experience it that way, they would have a different outlook.”
Hooters girl Nicole Hollingsworth said the testimony from witnesses indicated that none of them had actually visited a Hooters or researched the company.
“We are a family-based concept,” she said. “We are always out in the community doing charity events. Sundance Square is an excellent development property for us because it is targeted to families.”
The protesters have trouble seeing how a company that uses a logo with two oversized owl eyes to represent women’s boobs can call itself a family-oriented business. Claudia Levitas, Hooters’ chief legal counsel, said the logo was established in the early 1980s by the original owners.
“There is no denying that Hooters is a double entendre for the female breast,” she said. “It’s a joke. Most people in this generation consider it kitsch.”
On average, the hundreds of Hooters restaurants spread across the country, including about 40 in Texas, earn two-thirds of their profits through food and merchandise sales and one third through alcohol sales, Levitas said. About a third of its customers are women and children, she said. And Hooters waitresses are relatively covered up, wearing pantyhose that are as “thick as body armor.” Waitresses aren’t allowed to display tattoos or piercings at work.
“If you are against Hooters, you are against All-American cheerleaders,” Levitas said.