Robert H. Brooks handed over the reins of the Hooters franchise to his son Coby in 2003. But when the elder Brooks died three years later, it set off a protracted lawsuit over his estate and the ownership of the Atlanta-based brand. In 2011, Coby Brooks was forced to sell Hooters to a private equity firm, and soon after he was let go.
A few days later, Brooks had an idea. He called Randy Dewitt, founder of Twin Peaks, the Dallas-based sports-lodge-theme restaurant chain and fast-growing competitor of Hooters. “I knew I didn’t want to quit working, and I knew the restaurant business really well,” Brooks says. “So I asked him if he would give me a shot at being a franchisee. He asked if I had a noncompete clause. I told him no.”
Brooks has since opened 12 Twin Peaks units and plans to open 31 more in the next year in his territories of Georgia, Alabama, East Tennessee, the Carolinas and most of Florida.
Between hot wings, Brooks told us how he made the transition from franchisor to franchisee.
Why did you join Twin Peaks? Was it for vengeance?
Once I realized we had to sell, the writing was on the wall. New owners like to bring in their own people, and that was expected. I left Hooters on good terms.
We had been paying attention to our competitors. But we were especially watching Twin Peaks. When a competitor would open up near one of our stores, they would steal a lot of business at first, but we would eventually get it back. When a Twin Peaks opened, though, we’d lose 25 or 30 percent of our business, and we’d only get 5 percent of it back. We didn’t just lose customers to them; we’d lose workers. We couldn’t figure out what was so different about them. I was intrigued.
How was twin peaks different?
Once I started working with the company the differences became very apparent. One thing I found was that the way Randy set things up, there’s very little work for the girls. They focus on serving the customer; that’s it. They don’t have to bus tables, work as barbacks, cut fruit or set up tables. They just do their job and go home. So the retention rate is better.
And Twin Peaks’ menu is all from scratch. I think the food is much better than at Hooters. Also, they serve beer at 29 degrees, which no other chain or franchise is doing. The food’s great, the beer is cold, the seating is very comfortable. It’s a whole different experience than I was used to providing. Until you get into the business, it’s hard to see those things.
Is it difficult being a franchisee after leading a franchise company?
As a franchisee I don’t have as much freedom in the business, but it does give me free time to work on the operations of my stores. When I was a franchisor with 470 units, it was hard to keep an eye on the stores, especially our 120 company stores. Now I can concentrate completely on my 12 stores. Also, there’s less travel, and I have a lot more time for my kids.
Did I ever think I would go from franchisor to franchisee? No, I thought I’d be with Hooters forever. Am I happy with what transpired? Absolutely. I enjoy being a franchisee. It’s a lot less stress. I just do what corporate tells me, and I’m golden.
Why didn’t you just retire?
When my dad passed away and everything got squirreled up in the estate, those five years were extremely emotional and physically draining on me. Everything bad that could have happened did. I told my wife, “When we get through this and they let me go, I’m going to take a couple of years off.” I ended up taking two days off, not two years.
The impetus to call Randy was my executive team at Hooters. I’d grown up with them and been side by side with them for so many years, and I knew they were unhappy with the new management. I felt I owed them something. My father always said, “Take care of the people who take care of you and your family.” They were miserable, and I felt like I couldn’t leave them there. So I called Twin Peaks and brought them with me. If they had been happy, I don’t know what I’d be
doing right now!