“The attraction of Nottingham was Robin Hood, Brian Clough and five girls to one bloke,” says Mark James, who has been the manager of the only Hooters in the UK for 21 years.
It is a reputation that he says originally led to the continued growth of the American sports bar and grill chain – in which customers are served by waitresses wearing orange hot pants and tight tank tops.
It was back in 2010 when Hooters began to expand, with two new restaurants opening in Cardiff and Bristol.
But unlike Nottingham, feminist groups mounted campaigns to prevent them opening, and while they never managed to prevent this, the two Hooters bars closed down just under two years later.
And that is precisely what is so remarkable.
Hooters in Nottingham had managed to establish itself as a “destination”, Mark emphasised, in the years following its original opening in 1998.
It is something that kept it alive through the third and fourth waves of feminism, which began in the late ’90s and then in 2010 – hindering the success of any new restaurants in the UK from the very beginning.
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“We are dated,” Mark admits.
“It’s hot pants and a vest top. It’s not the sexiest thing. It’s just like a beach shack from the 1990s.
“It’s that nostalgia. You want to create that wow factor, like reminding those who are now in their 30s of the first time visiting Disneyland.
“Not as many people go to America anymore, so it’s about keeping those core values. We’ve not tried to reinvent the wheel.”
The restaurant opened in 1998 in London Road, before Canadian comedian and former Hooters girl Katherine Ryan helped move the venue to the Hicking Building in 2006 – where it has remained ever since.
But what is it like to work at the only remaining Hooters in the country?
Cheila Almeida, 23, has been working as a ‘Hooters girl’ for the past five years, who insisted it is not “sleazy” and more about preparing you for a life after Hooters.
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As a recent graduate from Nottingham Trent University, she now has a promising career in real estate ahead of her – something which she says has been built, in part, thanks to Hooters.
“I remember coming in for dinner on the all you can eat night,” Cheila told Nottinghamshire Live.
“The girls were amazing and I had never heard of Hooters before. I got chatting to one of the girls who ended up giving me an application.
“I had a really casual chat with Mark and it went from there. When I first came I thought the outfits were cute.
“When I first tried it on I remember thinking I hope I don’t look a bit, ‘ooh’, but I’m comfortable. I’m a woman, I can do what I want and choose to wear what I want.”
“When you go out in Nottingham you see girls wearing less.”
Each year, Mark sends one Hooters girl off to America for the Hooters International Pageant.
This year in June, Cheila had the opportunity to fly across the pond to Lake Tahoe where 80 girls from all restaurants across the world – of which there are more than 400 – compete for the crown.
Cheila explained how the pageant is not simply about posing in a swimsuit, she also took part in a number of empowerment classes.
“They have changed the pageant so the swimsuit shoot is on a separate night,” she said.
“The pageant is just you in a dress so it’s not too revealing.
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“We took part in women empowerment classes and had workshops, like how to write a CV, and life after Hooters I came back with a different outlook.
“People get scared to put Hooters on their CV in case you get judged, but all the girls who used to work here are either abroad or have really nice jobs.”
She added the flexibility of shifts has allowed her to study, save and she will now be purchasing a holiday home in Portugal next year – which she will rent out to holidaymakers.
Morgan Jones, 20, her co-worker, is in her second year studying biomedical science at NTU and hopes to one day obtain a PhD.
Morgan, of the Vale of Belvoir, added: “When I first started It was quite intimidating and I was quite conscious about the outfit, but it’s just really good fun.
“I have worked in other restaurants and it is no different. You do not get hassled and no-one has ever grabbed me or anything like that.
“We are not flirty with the customers and you have always worn tights. It’s a family restaurant. The people who have a bad word to say are usually the one’s who have never been in before.”
Manager Mark, who started out as a bartender in Hull, said the customer base is made up of 70 percent men, 20 percent women and around 10 percent families, particularly on a Sunday.
He prides the restaurant on its “pull”, bringing in 300 football fans on a Saturday afternoon for beer and wings and a further 400 in the evening for the same again.
A record “metric tonne” – almost equivalent to a Land Rover – of chicken wings have been ordered on a Monday.
“Our main competition is Switzerland, Singapore and Mexico City,” Mark added.
“Of course we don’t have the views like the Alps, so they’re always saying ‘whose that little Nottingham store bringing it in’.
“Girls that worked here are working as solicitors now. During the staff meeting on a Sunday morning you ought to see some of the cars the girls turn up in in the car park.
“You look at the way of the world now, we’ve done a vegan burger for example, but we’re still going to remember who we are. It’s just fun and cheesy.
“The Hooters girl is a job position. It’s what you apply for. We have men in the kitchen but the franchise laws state you cannot employ a Hooters boy.
“I really haven’t changed in that sense. We are a destination venue. In the summer you have your stag and hen parties.
“You have the regulars who come in and use it as Hooters the local pub, and you have the families on Sundays when kids eat free.
“I’m looking forward to the next ten years. We’ve found that balance between what we give to Nottingham and what Nottingham gives us. It’s that acceptance that has been the key to our success.”
By Joseph Locker
Source: Nottingham Post