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Neighbors mostly supportive of new Hooters to replace Pepin in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — Neighbors of a planned Hooters restaurant turned out Monday to hear its CEO extol its benefits to the community.

The new Hooters, which will soon replace a Pepin restaurant that opened in 1974 and closed in January, will bring a steady, mature and older clientele, assured Neil Kiefer, the CEO for Hooters Management Corp.

Neighbors who showed up to hear the pitch at the Masonic Home of Florida on First Street NE seemed to leave with good impressions — and $20 gift certificates courtesy of the restaurant.

Kiefer, 59, said he wanted people unsure of what the restaurant is to get a taste for themselves.

Most of the meeting focused on overflow parking, which neighbors feared would clog their streets.

Kiefer countered that the restaurant will take up less space than Pepin — 7,300 square feet vs. Pepin's 10,000. The salad won't be prepared table-side anymore, but no one is likely to care.

While food critics have praised the chicken salad at Hooters — and the New York Times gave a thumbs-up to the wings, the buffalo shrimp and the service — the real marketing appeal here is who serves it: "Hooters Girls" in tight orange shorts and clingy T-shirts. The restaurant chain, which started on Gulf to Bay Boulevard in 1983 in Clearwater, bills itself as "delightfully tacky, yet unrefined."

Investors are putting nearly $3 million into the new restaurant at 4125 Fourth St. N, Kiefer said. A nearby location at 10400 Roosevelt Blvd. will close.

Kiefer, a lawyer, touted the chain's long record of community involvement.

"It's not for everybody," he said.

"I don't think it's a great idea with the skimpy outfits,'' said Shirley Ralston, a member of the neighborhood Crime Watch. "We don't want all the traffic coming in here."

But most neighbors appeared to welcome the new Hooters.

"It's a family restaurant," said Bud Mucha, 66. "It's better than a porno store."

As the meeting broke up, Rod Moren of Shore Acres had this to say: ''Nobody wants to say what it is. It's all right."

As for whether he would patronize the restaurant, Moren, 76, said: ''The food would have to be pretty good. But I don't think I could take the wife."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

Neighbors mostly supportive of new Hooters to replace Pepin in St. Petersburg 04/12/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 10:23am]
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