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Northeast neighbors adjust to Hooters replacing Pepin family restaurant

ST. PETERSBURG — It isn't the type of business Cheryl Greenwood would have chosen for her neighborhood, but for Hooters executives, the location on the western edge of the Northeast Park neighborhood couldn't be better.

For Neil Kiefer, chief executive officer of the chain known for chicken wings and beer served up by scantily clad Hooters "girls,'' it's about high car counts and an established retail environment.

Greenwood, a neighborhood leader, bemoaned the supplanting of a family restaurant that drew couples seeking quality time and celebrating anniversaries for a new, rowdier crowd.

"I was really hoping it wouldn't come to fruition,'' said the onetime president and current board member of the Northeast Park Neighborhood Association.

"Our neighborhood is much more family-oriented. … It's just sad to see an established family business go away, but it is always better than a vacant building. Looking on the bright side of things, if they're going to employ people and conduct themselves professionally, more power to them."

News that Pepin — a landmark Mediterranean-style restaurant at 4125 Fourth St. N for more than three decades — was closing at the end of the month and being bought by the Clearwater-based Hooters Management Corp., was announced last week.

Kiefer said he doesn't foresee a problem with the new restaurant's neighbors. While Hooters will be a different concept than Pepin's, it is opening in an already established commercial area, he said. About 75 percent of Hooters' sales are of food and merchandise, he added, and there will be no bands.

Additionally, the restaurant with its tongue-in-cheek name and servers in tight T-shirts and shorts, did a survey that indicated that at least 50 percent of its weekend customers are women and children, Kiefer said.

"We are owned by nine people who are men and women in the community. I can't imagine there being any controversy,'' said Kiefer, a lawyer and longtime volunteer assistant boys basketball coach at Boca Ciega High School.

Regardless, over the years, the chain has come up against reluctant neighbors from California to Texas to Michigan.

Chad Norris, another Northeast Park Neighborhood Association leader, is unlikely to be one of those. "Hooters is a well-run organization, and they are a professional business, whether you agree with their concept or not,'' he said.

Karan Padgett, the organization's treasurer, does have concerns. "I'm not too excited about it. I'm more concerned about the beer and the liquor and things like that and the parking,'' she said. "I was born in St. Pete and I like to see people contacted before things go any further, but it sounds as if it was pretty much a done deal.''

Kiefer said his company had long been interested in finding a place along the Fourth Street N corridor.

"It's a great retail commercial trading zone. We had negotiated on and off for the Durango site,'' he said, referring to a closed restaurant nearby. "We didn't go seeking the Pepin's property. It was brought to us by Realtors.''

He said Hooters will relocate its restaurant at 10400 Roosevelt Blvd. to the Fourth Street spot. The Roosevelt property is being sold to a financial institution, whose name he cannot disclose, he said.

The Fourth Street restaurant will feature a new exterior design, while keeping its traditional Hooters beach interior. The facility, which will be about 5,000 to 5,500 square feet, will employ about 100 to 125 full- and part-time workers. Smaller than Pepin, it will have over 95 parking spaces, Kiefer said.

The Clearwater-based company, founded in 1983 by six couples, owns and operates Hooters restaurants in the Tampa Bay and Chicago areas and in Manhattan. In mid February, it will open a new restaurant in John's Pass, bringing to 11 the number of Hooters restaurants in the Tampa Bay area.

Nine of the original owners of Hooters remain with the Clearwater company, which entered into a licensing agreement with an Atlanta-based group in 1984. That group, Hooters of America, owns, operates and franchises Hooters restaurants across the United States and various parts of the world. In 2001, the Clearwater company sold its trademark rights to Hooters of America, retaining perpetual rights to restaurants in the areas where it has stores, including the Tampa Bay area.

Tuesday morning, Northeast Park resident Jean Garrett, walking her Maltese-poodle mix, Honey, stopped to talk about the new restaurant. The few neighbors — three men — she has talked to about it are unconcerned, she said. "It wasn't a big deal,'' she said. "It was not necessarily a place they plan to hang out.''

For her part, she's sad to see Pepin go and worried about the impact of traffic through the neighborhood, said Garrett, an unemployed dental hygienist who is studying nursing at St. Petersburg College.

Greenwood hopes Hooters' executives will listen to neighbors' concerns. "I would think that if the neighborhood wanted to get together with them, they would be willing to do that,'' she said.

Kiefer is amenable to the proposal. "We'd be glad to meet with them and invite them to one of our other stores,'' he said.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this article. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

Northeast neighbors adjust to Hooters replacing Pepin family restaurant 01/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 6:05pm]
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