LAS VEGAS – Hooters, the tongue-in-cheek eatery that parlayed spicy chicken wings and busty waitresses in skimpy outfits into an international restaurant chain, is opening its first ever casino and hotel a stone's throw from the Las Vegas Strip.
The grand opening Thursday marks the latest foray for the "delightfully tacky, yet unrefined" restaurant that began in 1983 in Clearwater, Fla., and later branched into calendars, merchandise and even an airline.
"The Hooters customer is already a Vegas kind of customer. They're a little punky, they're a little high energy, they're looking for a getaway — and all of those things just match up," said Ed Droste, one of the six men who founded Hooters. Four of those original partners together own a third of the renovated hotel-casino.
The 696-room property with nine restaurant/bars is a revamp of the Hotel San Remo and, despite its makeover, remains a midget compared with the 5,035-room MGM Grand across the street on a corner of the Strip that offers 14,000 hotel rooms.
The Hotel San Remo, first built in 1973, has been run for the past 17 years by the Izumi family of Japan who maintained a one-third stake in the rebranded business.
The San Remo's revenues and profits stagnated for at least the past five years, dwarfed in the shadow of the MGM Grand, New York-New York, Excalibur and Tropicana hotels on the nearest corner.
"San Remo was a nice little business," said Richard Langlois, senior vice president of marketing for Hooters Casino Hotel. "But the property can be better utilized with a brand like Hooters."
Hooters' operators hope to draw from a customer base of about 61 million annual visitors at its some 400 restaurants in the United States, Canada, Europe, South America, Asia and the Caribbean.
Information and reservation hot lines have been set up at 80 restaurants in the Southwest, and staff will be rewarded with discounts and free rooms for promoting bookings, executives said.
Talks are ongoing with Hooters of America Inc. to fly customers to Las Vegas on Hooters Air, they said. The Atlanta-based company bought the franchise and licensing rights from the founders and launched the airline in 2003.
Hooters casino operators have rebranded almost every inch of the hotel, including using subtly placed borderline gags about the female form to appeal to a core audience of mostly married men aged 25 to 54.
Observers said the company might carve out a niche with a down-market offering in an area of the Strip that has become more expensive.
"You know their market. It's relatively blue collar and young," said University of Nevada, Las Vegas history professor Hal Rothman, who wrote "Neon Metropolis: How Las Vegas Started the 21st Century."
"There's really nothing else on the Strip that caters to that market," he said.
The revamp was paid for with $125 million in debt. Langlois said he expects to more than triple the San Remo's annual revenue to about $100 million and have an operating profit of $22 million to $24 million.