JACKSON — By January, two “delightfully tacky, yet unrefined” national chain restaurants will be located in Mississippi.
And if you are unfamiliar with that phrase, you certainly will not be unfamiliar with the restaurant, Hooters, which is today located in all but nine states.
“Certainly there’s a strong presence in Mississippi that will support any retail business,” said Mike McNeil, vice president of marketing at Hooters of America Inc. in Atlanta.
Hooters will open restaurants in Jackson and Biloxi by late December or early January. The Biloxi restaurant will be opened by a franchisee and the Jackson restaurant will be company-owned.
McNeil said 35 new Hooters restaurants will open this year, and about the same number will open next year, too. The chain is close to opening its 300th location.
“Business has been fairly healthy,” McNeil said, although he admitted 2001 was not as good as 1999 and 2000.
“I think that a lot of the problems your fine dining establishments are having is a decline in business travel and expense accounts,” McNeil said. “We’re well insulated from that.”
There are no specific plans in the future for opening more restaurants in Mississippi.
Joe Billhimer, managing member of Gulf Coast Wings, LLC, in Biloxi, is the franchisee who will open the Biloxi site around Dec. 10 on Biloxi Beach. The building will be located between Treasure Bay and The President casinos and Casino Row. It will cost about $1 million to build the 6,000-square-foot building.
Billhimer, whose background is not in restaurants but in casinos (he is the president of Grand Casino in Gulfport), said he has been trying to acquire a Hooters franchise in Mississippi since 1993.
“When my wife and I were dating we used to go to Hooters all the time,” Billhimer said. “It’s a great, fun atmosphere.”
Billhimer’s wife is his main partner in the business. He has two other business partners as well.
“We’re excited about it,” he said. “I think it’s good for the Coast, good for tourism. The area has always been known for restaurants. Hopefully it will revitalize that little strip area.”
Billhimer said the construction site is “probably one of the prettiest sites for Hooters in the country.”
Already Billhimer and his partners have hired a manager and two assistant managers from the local area who are currently finishing their restaurant training in Atlanta.
Ron Ruland, assistant manager of Cucos Restaurant in Biloxi, has mixed emotions about the restaurant coming to the area. The new Hooters will be located next to Cucos.
“You hear Hooters and you think they have the skimpy outfits,” Ruland said. “But from a business outlook, I actually think it will help Cucos. It’ll make it more of a hub.”
Ruland said he wished more restaurants would come to his end of the beach.
“I think it’s going to be great for the area,” he said. “I’m definitely not one for sending my wife to work in an outfit like that. Other than that it’s fine. I really don’t think I have anything negative to say about them.”
Hooters an opportunity for more jobs
Kimberly Nastasi Crim, executive director of the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce, sees Hooters as an opportunity for more jobs to be present in the economy.
“I think it’s a good thing,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s bringing more business and more jobs to the area. I know some might have a negative perception but they do have a choice not to go. It’s another business coming in and we encourage the growth and new jobs. If it is offensive there are other restaurants you can choose.”
The Hooters location in Jackson will be the former office of Eye Care/Plus on I-55 west frontage road. The building will be expanded to create a 4,300-square-foot structure that seats about 150.
Jeff Good, co-owner of Bravo! and Broad Street Baking Co. in Jackson, is excited about Hooters choosing Jackson for their next restaurant location. Broad Street Baking Co. is located near the building Hooters will be moving into.
“The fact that a restaurant has chosen that location, it really validates something that’s happening here on the (western) side of I-55,” Good said. “This is becoming a very viable restaurant district. Even now in the wake of the terrorist attacks, we’re booking the same sales we did before the terrorist attacks. The only week we blipped was the week of the attacks.”
There have been several restaurants that have recently opened in that area aside from Bravo! and Broad Street Baking Co. Those restaurants include Scrooges, which reopened under new management two years ago, and New Deli Grill. A new steakhouse will soon open in the old Shoney’s location in Highland Village as well.
“I think that speaks to the health of what I’m calling the center of north Jackson,” Good said.
Good is also looking forward to the possibilities Hooters will bring to the area.
“Hooters is going to introduce our restaurant to a whole new group of folks,” he said. “I think it’s a win-win for everybody. I’d much rather have new restaurant opening up in my area than opening up out of the city.”
Franklyn L. Tate, interim deputy director of the City of Jackson’s Department of Planning and Development in the Office of Economic Development, said Jackson has to position itself to offer the same array of entertainment options that other communities do.
“In other cities, that option (Hooters) is available,” Tate said. “We’re willing to support them as long as their operations don’t lead to any maladjustment in the area and it doesn’t threaten the integrity of the surrounding area. We don’t see it as being detrimental to the surrounding area.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at email@example.com or (601) 364-1042.