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Chamber honors Hooters co-founder

He's done some pretty wacky things.

Like dressing up in a chicken suit and prancing along the median of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, waving at motorists.

Like bringing a live chimpanzee to a Clearwater chamber board meeting.

On Thursday, Ed Droste, one of the founders of the successful Hooters restaurant chain, added another distinction to his colorful resume.

Droste, 52, was named Mr. Clearwater at the 82nd annual Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting at the Harborview Center in honor of his generosity and involvement in the Clearwater community. The award has been given annually since 1958 to people who contribute to the welfare of the city's residents.

Alan Bomstein, the 1991 Mr. Clearwater and president of Creative Contractors, described the winner as generous and passionate.

"Causes are his passion," he said. "He not only steps up for visible needs, he also quietly helps people in need in a compassionate and anonymous manner. He doesn't say no. Ask, and he's there for you."

In a joking nod to Droste's rather risque restaurant chain, Bomstein introduced Droste as "Clearwater's answer to Hugh Hefner."

Stepping up to the podium and putting on the Mr. Clearwater navy blazer, Droste commented, "I just doubled my wardrobe here."

Facing the audience, the Island Estates resident said, "I've been so blessed. When you do well, giving back is a fun thing to do."

Droste said he was totally surprised.

"I had no idea, that's the cool thing," he said. "I clearly think that I'm not the kind of person who wins these awards. I'm in awe of the past recipients and to be in their company."

A lengthy list of organizations that he supports with contributions and membership includes the Chapel by the Sea, Clearwater Jazz Holiday, Moffitt Cancer Center, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Stop Hunger Now, USA Olympic Committee, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Hospice Foundation, Humane Society, Paint Your Heart Out Clearwater and Clearwater Chargers Soccer Team.

Droste explained the monkey story.

"It happened when I was vice chairman of the chamber's special events board," he said. "At the meetings, I was always announced as, "And now for a report a trained chimpanzee could give.' "

At his last meeting as vice chairman, Droste brought a live chimpanzee as a joke. The chimp climbed into Droste's seat, grabbed his report off the table and began jumping up and down in a never-to-be-forgotten moment by those attending.

Droste's parents, Ed and Phyllis Droste of Waverly, Iowa, came in as their son's name was being announced. They are spending the winter on Sand Key.

Mrs. Droste said she has known about the award for three weeks. "It was a hard secret to keep," she said, adding: "We are very proud of him. We have been for many years."

Droste and five other men opened the original Hooters in Clearwater on April Fools' Day in 1983. Only two customers came in that first day. To attract attention to the restaurant, Droste donned a chicken suit and padded out to the middle of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.

"You do what you gotta do sometimes," Droste said about the chicken performance.

Since that inauspicious beginning, Hooters has expanded into an empire that now includes a chain of restaurants worldwide, a line of frozen foods, a pro golf tour, a magazine, a movie in development and a radio show.

The Iowa native, who moved here in 1974, is chief executive officer of the Clearwater-based Provident Management Corp., which operates Florida condominiums/hotels.

He also helps operate Provident Advertising and Marketing, a company that designs Hooters' advertising and other restaurant concepts. The newest restaurant that he co-founded is Splitsville in the Channelside area of Tampa.

Also at Thursday's luncheon meeting, Holly H. Duncan, president and chief executive officer of Morton Plant Mease Health Care Foundation, was installed as chairwoman of the chamber's board.

She has more than 20 years' experience in professional fundraising. She was formerly vice president of development for the Florida Aquarium and Ruth Eckerd Hall. She also has been a senior development officer for Lowry Park Zoo and the Florida Orchestra and director of major gifts at Eckerd College.

Clearwater Regional

Chamber presents

82nd annual awards

+ Large Business of the Year (more than $5-million in annual revenue): TBE Group, a Clearwater consulting, engineering and planning firm. Its specialties include civil engineering, construction management, highway and bridge design, right-of-way services and acquisition, stormwater management, transportation planning and engineering. Patrick L. Beyer is president of the TBE Group.

+ Medium Business of the Year ($1-million-$5-million in revenue): Jiffy Reprographics, a Clearwater digital graphics and printing center, owned by Robert Roperti. The business specializes in printing and distribution of construction documents for the architectural, engineering and construction market. It also specializes in the design and production of large format color graphics for retail displays, trade show exhibits and business graphics.

+ Small Business of the Year (less than $1-million in revenue): Reliable Moving & Storage. The Clearwater business provides commercial and residential, local and long distance moving services. Steve Strange is vice president of the company.

+ Tourism Person of the Year: Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which includes Tampa International Airport. Miller and his team have restored the passenger count to pre-Sept. 11 levels, a year before projections. The airport was named the best in the United States and one of the best in the world by an annual poll taken by Conde Nast Traveler magazine. Thirty-three percent of the airport's 16-million annual passengers either arrive or originate in Pinellas County. Fifty percent of Clearwater's visitors arrive by air.

+ Ambassador of the Year: Sherri Callahan of Callahan Water Solutions. The Clearwater business sells and services water conditioners and drinking water systems.

+ Chamber chairwoman: Holly H. Duncan, president and chief executive officer of Morton Plant Mease Health Care Foundation, was installed as chairwoman of the board of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce.