Hooters Chairman Robert Brooks Dies at 69

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Robert Brooks had a simple explanation for the success of his Hooters chain, known as much for the tight T-shirts of its waitresses as for its chicken wings.

"Good food, cold beer and pretty girls never go out of style," he told Fortune magazine in 2003.

Brooks, chairman of the restaurant chain, was found dead at his home Sunday at 69. Coroner Robert Edge said an autopsy found Brooks died of natural causes, but he would not be more specific.

Since opening its first restaurant in Clearwater, Fla., in 1983, Hooters of America Inc. has expanded into 46 states and 19 countries. Hooters has about 61 million annual visitors.

Born on a tobacco farm outside Loris near Myrtle Beach, Brooks graduated from Clemson University with a degree in dairy science. According to a Newsweek article in 2005, Brooks broke into the food industry with a milkshake formula that was used by restaurant chain Burger King.

In 1966, he founded Eastern Foods Inc., which initially sold nondairy creamer to airlines and now makes dressings and sauces as Naturally Fresh Foods. He continued as chairman of the company, which has more than $100 million in annual sales.

In 1984, he and a group of Atlanta investors bought expansion and franchise rights for the Hooters chain. He eventually bought majority control and became chairman.

Brooks tried to parlay the restaurant chain's success into an airline in 2003. At its peak, Hooters Air flew to 15 destinations, but the company racked up debt and stopped commercial flights earlier this year. The company now flies charters.

Brooks shared his wealth with his hometown, giving $2 million to Coastal Carolina University for its first football stadium, which was named Brooks Stadium in 2003. In 1996, he was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.