News | Strategy: How Hooters Air went from a successful airline to a $40 million failure in three years

Strategy: How Hooters Air went from a successful airline to a $40 million failure in three years

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  • Hooters, the restaurant chain known for its hot wings and tank top-wearing servers, operated an airline in the early 2000s.
  • You might not have known about it because it didn't last long — about three years in fact.
  • Here's how Hooters Air became a successful airline before turning into a $40 million failure.

You might not remember it, but Hooters once had an airline.

The restaurant chain launched an air service in 2003, and onboard every flight were two Hooters servers that helped tend to passengers.

Three years after it launched, however, Hooters Air shut down, but not before the iconic "breastaurant" enjoyed a short period of success in the sky.

We talked to people who worked for Hooters Air — flight attendants and one pilot (who asked to remain anonymous) — as well as a few industry experts to find out what happened. They told us what it was really like to work for the airline, dispelled some common misperceptions about what it was like to fly it, and explained the airline's rapid downfall.

Here's how Hooters Air became a successful airline before turning into a $40 million failure.

Hooters has been offering patrons beer and hot wings, among other things, from its chain of restaurants for 35 years now.

Hooters has been offering patrons beer and hot wings, among other things, from its chain of restaurants for 35 years now.play

Hooters has been offering patrons beer and hot wings, among other things, from its chain of restaurants for 35 years now.

(Chris O'Meara/AP)

The chain's trademark waitresses, clad in orange shorts and tank tops, have helped cement Hooters as the original "breastaurant" of the food industry.

The chain's trademark waitresses, clad in orange shorts and tank tops, have helped cement Hooters as the original "breastaurant" of the food industry.play

The chain's trademark waitresses, clad in orange shorts and tank tops, have helped cement Hooters as the original "breastaurant" of the food industry.

(Gil Cohen Magen/Reuters)

But as popular as the company may be, one fact often forgotten...

But as popular as the company may be, one fact often forgotten...play

But as popular as the company may be, one fact often forgotten...

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

... is that Hooters also had an airline at one point.

... is that Hooters also had an airline at one point.play

... is that Hooters also had an airline at one point.

(Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

You might not have known about it because it didn't last long.

You might not have known about it because it didn't last long.play

You might not have known about it because it didn't last long.

(Hooters)

It started in 2003, and, initially, the airline was successful. But it shut down just three years later.

It started in 2003, and, initially, the airline was successful. But it shut down just three years later.play

It started in 2003, and, initially, the airline was successful. But it shut down just three years later.

(Nick Mantis/New Millennium Productions)

The airline was based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and offered low-price, direct flights in the US.

The airline was based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and offered low-price, direct flights in the US.play

The airline was based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and offered low-price, direct flights in the US.

(Bruce Smith/AP)

Hooters Air flew to 15 destinations, including Las Vegas and Denver ...

Hooters Air flew to 15 destinations, including Las Vegas and Denver ...play

Hooters Air flew to 15 destinations, including Las Vegas and Denver ...

(Rob Ludacer/Business Insider)

... and airfares were a flat rate of $129 each way.

A look at the Hooters Air website from back in the day.play

A look at the Hooters Air website from back in the day.

(Hooters)

So, why did Hooters think it was a good idea to start an airline? And why did it fail?

So, why did Hooters think it was a good idea to start an airline? And why did it fail?play

So, why did Hooters think it was a good idea to start an airline? And why did it fail?

(Reuters)

It all started in 1983 when Hooters was founded by six businessmen in Clearwater, Florida.

Above: The original Hooters restaurant in Clearwater, Florida.play

Above: The original Hooters restaurant in Clearwater, Florida.

(YouTube/Seek The World)

A year later, an Atlanta-based group led by Bob Brooks, seen below, saw the company's potential and bought it outright.

A year later, an Atlanta-based group led by Bob Brooks, seen below, saw the company's potential and bought it outright.play

A year later, an Atlanta-based group led by Bob Brooks, seen below, saw the company's potential and bought it outright.

(Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

"It was the first 'breastaurant' chain, so basically they pioneered the idea that they were going to have all their waiters wear short shorts and really tight tank tops," Kate Taylor, a retail reporter at Business Insider, reported.

Taylor is not featured in this photo.play

Taylor is not featured in this photo.

(John Bazemore/AP)

Source: Business Insider

"From the 80s until the early 2000s, it was a very successful kind of growing business," Taylor said.

Taylor is not featured in this photo.play

Taylor is not featured in this photo.

(Carlos Osorio/AP)

By 2003, Hooters was flush with cash, and Bob Brooks wanted to expand the brand.

By 2003, Hooters was flush with cash, and Bob Brooks wanted to expand the brand.play

By 2003, Hooters was flush with cash, and Bob Brooks wanted to expand the brand.

(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

So he bought a small, North Carolina-based charter airline called Pace Airlines ...

So he bought a small, North Carolina-based charter airline called Pace Airlines ...play

So he bought a small, North Carolina-based charter airline called Pace Airlines ...

(SpeedbirdHD/YouTube)

... and repainted the airplanes with the company logo. Hooters Air soon took off.

... and repainted the airplanes with the company logo. Hooters Air soon took off.play

... and repainted the airplanes with the company logo. Hooters Air soon took off.

(Matthew Peyton/Getty Images)

"There was a lot of intrigue about this airline, not because of what was happening on the inside, but more so what people perceived from the outside," a former Hooters Air pilot who asked to remain anonymous told Business Insider.

The anonymous pilot is not featured in this photo.play

The anonymous pilot is not featured in this photo.

(Courtesy of Sara Nitz)

In fact, a common misperception about Hooters Air was that the flight attendants on the flights were Hooters servers, otherwise known as Hooters Girls, which isn't true.

In fact, a common misperception about Hooters Air was that the flight attendants on the flights were Hooters servers, otherwise known as Hooters Girls, which isn't true.play

In fact, a common misperception about Hooters Air was that the flight attendants on the flights were Hooters servers, otherwise known as Hooters Girls, which isn't true.

(Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

Every flight aboard Hooters Air was staffed by two Hooters Girls, and they did wear their signature shorts and tank top ensembles.

Every flight aboard Hooters Air was staffed by two Hooters Girls, and they did wear their signature shorts and tank top ensembles.play

Every flight aboard Hooters Air was staffed by two Hooters Girls, and they did wear their signature shorts and tank top ensembles.

(Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

Back in 2003, before Hooters Air made its maiden flight out of Gary, Indiana ...

Back in 2003, before Hooters Air made its maiden flight out of Gary, Indiana ...play

Back in 2003, before Hooters Air made its maiden flight out of Gary, Indiana ...

(Rob Ludacer/Business Insider)

... Hooters recruited servers from some of its local restaurants to work aboard its flights.

... Hooters recruited servers from some of its local restaurants to work aboard its flights.play

... Hooters recruited servers from some of its local restaurants to work aboard its flights.

(Nick Mantis/New Millennium Productions)

But they weren't serving wings or beer 35,000 feet in the air.

But they weren't serving wings or beer 35,000 feet in the air.play

But they weren't serving wings or beer 35,000 feet in the air.

(BemLoira BemDevassa/Flickr)

"It's gonna be a nice change of pace from the restaurant," one Hooters Girl told local TV at the time. "Instead of serving food and picking up trash, we get to just basically entertain and ask trivia questions and all that."

"It's gonna be a nice change of pace from the restaurant," one Hooters Girl told local TV at the time. "Instead of serving food and picking up trash, we get to just basically entertain and ask trivia questions and all that."play

"It's gonna be a nice change of pace from the restaurant," one Hooters Girl told local TV at the time. "Instead of serving food and picking up trash, we get to just basically entertain and ask trivia questions and all that."

(Nick Mantis/New Millennium Productions)

Source: Nick Mantis/New Millenium Productions

Since they lacked the FAA certification that the flight attendants had, Hooters servers could not operate any machinery onboard, like closing the airplane doors or pushing the food carts.

Since they lacked the FAA certification that the flight attendants had, Hooters servers could not operate any machinery onboard, like closing the airplane doors or pushing the food carts.play

Since they lacked the FAA certification that the flight attendants had, Hooters servers could not operate any machinery onboard, like closing the airplane doors or pushing the food carts.

(Nick Mantis/New Millennium Productions)

Source: Nick Mantis/YouTube

In addition to the Hooters servers that staffed each flight, three FAA-certified flight attendants were also aboard every flight, and they were the ones who served food and drinks to passengers...

In addition to the Hooters servers that staffed each flight, three FAA-certified flight attendants were also aboard every flight, and they were the ones who served food and drinks to passengers...play

In addition to the Hooters servers that staffed each flight, three FAA-certified flight attendants were also aboard every flight, and they were the ones who served food and drinks to passengers...

(Courtesy of Sara Nitz)

... while the Hooters Girls aboard simply entertained guests and helped the flight attendants with whatever they needed.

... while the Hooters Girls aboard simply entertained guests and helped the flight attendants with whatever they needed.play

... while the Hooters Girls aboard simply entertained guests and helped the flight attendants with whatever they needed.

(Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

These flight attendants did not don the usual garb associated with the restaurant chain.

These flight attendants did not don the usual garb associated with the restaurant chain.play

These flight attendants did not don the usual garb associated with the restaurant chain.

(Courtesy of Kimberly Cerimele)

"I had a navy blue dress with like, a little orange scarf," former Hooters Air flight attendant Sara Nitz told Business Insider. "Very professional."

"I had a navy blue dress with like, a little orange scarf," former Hooters Air flight attendant Sara Nitz told Business Insider. "Very professional."play

"I had a navy blue dress with like, a little orange scarf," former Hooters Air flight attendant Sara Nitz told Business Insider. "Very professional."

(Courtesy of Sara Nitz)

"It had the little owl embroidered on it," Nitz said.

"It had the little owl embroidered on it," Nitz said.play

"It had the little owl embroidered on it," Nitz said.

(Courtesy of Sara Nitz)

"We had two Hooters Girls from different restaurants from the area that would do the trivia on the plane, but they had no training whatsoever," former Hooters Air flight attendant Kimberly Cerimele told Business Insider.

Cerimele is not featured in this photo.play

Cerimele is not featured in this photo.

(Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

"They were just there just for passenger fun," Cerimele said.

Cerimele is not featured in this photo.play

Cerimele is not featured in this photo.

(Nick Mantis/New Millennium Productions)

But the women were still working. One Hooters Girl told local TV that the shifts were round trip, with workdays spanning from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

But the women were still working. One Hooters Girl told local TV that the shifts were round trip, with workdays spanning from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.play

But the women were still working. One Hooters Girl told local TV that the shifts were round trip, with workdays spanning from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

(Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

Source: Nick Mantis/YouTube

The airline didn't just switch up the pace for Hooters employees ...

The airline didn't just switch up the pace for Hooters employees ...play

The airline didn't just switch up the pace for Hooters employees ...

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

... it bolstered the local economies of its smaller US destinations, like Gary, Indiana, which sits 25 miles southeast from Chicago.

... it bolstered the local economies of its smaller US destinations, like Gary, Indiana, which sits 25 miles southeast from Chicago.play

... it bolstered the local economies of its smaller US destinations, like Gary, Indiana, which sits 25 miles southeast from Chicago.

(Jim Young/Reuters)

Paul Karas, manager of Gary/Chicago International Airport, said Hooters Air flying into the area translated into more airline service, more airline activity, more economic development, and more jobs.

Paul Karas, manager of Gary/Chicago International Airport, said Hooters Air flying into the area translated into more airline service, more airline activity, more economic development, and more jobs.play

Paul Karas, manager of Gary/Chicago International Airport, said Hooters Air flying into the area translated into more airline service, more airline activity, more economic development, and more jobs.

(Nick Mantis/New Millennium Productions)

But the small Indiana town of Gary wasn't the only market to experience an economic boom ...

But the small Indiana town of Gary wasn't the only market to experience an economic boom ...play

But the small Indiana town of Gary wasn't the only market to experience an economic boom ...

(Jim Young/Reuters)

... the city of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where the airline was officially headquartered, also enjoyed economic stimulation.

... the city of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where the airline was officially headquartered, also enjoyed economic stimulation.play

... the city of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where the airline was officially headquartered, also enjoyed economic stimulation.

(Bruce Smith/AP)

"In its heyday, Hooters Air was bringing between 3,000 and 5,000 a week into the Myrtle Beach area," Brad Dean, the CEO of the Myrtle Beach chamber of commerce, told Business Insider.

Dean is not featured in this photo.play

Dean is not featured in this photo.

(Bruce Smith/AP)

But as big as Hooters Air was for Myrtle Beach, it wasn't enough to keep it airborne. So Hooters shut it down in 2006, citing a $40 million loss.

But as big as Hooters Air was for Myrtle Beach, it wasn't enough to keep it airborne. So Hooters shut it down in 2006, citing a $40 million loss.play

But as big as Hooters Air was for Myrtle Beach, it wasn't enough to keep it airborne. So Hooters shut it down in 2006, citing a $40 million loss.

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Airline industry analyst Henry Harteveldt told Business Insider that the airline's demise was compounded by a few factors. "They started the airline as the airline industry was recovering from the 9/11 attacks. People were scared of getting on airplanes," he said.

Airline industry analyst Henry Harteveldt told Business Insider that the airline's demise was compounded by a few factors. "They started the airline as the airline industry was recovering from the 9/11 attacks. People were scared of getting on airplanes," he said.play

Airline industry analyst Henry Harteveldt told Business Insider that the airline's demise was compounded by a few factors. "They started the airline as the airline industry was recovering from the 9/11 attacks. People were scared of getting on airplanes," he said.

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

"There was growing low-fare competition in the market as Southwest and other airlines in the market had begun to expand," he said.

"There was growing low-fare competition in the market as Southwest and other airlines in the market had begun to expand," he said.play

"There was growing low-fare competition in the market as Southwest and other airlines in the market had begun to expand," he said.

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

And jet fuel prices were trending upwards. "So it just wasn't an economically viable business," Harteveldt said.

And jet fuel prices were trending upwards. "So it just wasn't an economically viable business," Harteveldt said.play

And jet fuel prices were trending upwards. "So it just wasn't an economically viable business," Harteveldt said.

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Still, "there are people at work and people visiting the Myrtle Beach area that might never have had the opportunity to do so if it weren't for Bob Brooks, so we remain very grateful for his investment in his airline and our community," Dean said.

Dean is not featured in this photo.play

Dean is not featured in this photo.

(Matthew Peyton/Getty Images)

And despite the failure of Hooters Air, the 35-year-old Hooters brand continued to thrive.

And despite the failure of Hooters Air, the 35-year-old Hooters brand continued to thrive.play

And despite the failure of Hooters Air, the 35-year-old Hooters brand continued to thrive.

(Hooters)

They've opened up hundreds of locations in the US ...

They've opened up hundreds of locations in the US ...play

They've opened up hundreds of locations in the US ...

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

...as well as outside the US.

...as well as outside the US.play

...as well as outside the US.

(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

"They're more than a $250 million business at this point," Taylor said. "And they kind of took over the US and then the world."

Taylor not pictured above.play

Taylor not pictured above.

(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Overall, the people we talked to have fond memories of Hooters Air.

Overall, the people we talked to have fond memories of Hooters Air.play

Overall, the people we talked to have fond memories of Hooters Air.

(Nick Mantis/New Millennium Productions)

"There was definitely flirtiness," Cerimele said. "With any flight, you're gonna come across people that have drank too much, but nothing bad. It was fun."

Cerimele not featured in this photo.play

Cerimele not featured in this photo.

(Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

"It was just very happy memories," she said.

Cerimele not featured in this photo.play

Cerimele not featured in this photo.

(Courtesy of Kimberly Cerimele)

"I'm probably one of the few pilots that can say I actually went to pilot heaven," the anonymous pilot said.

The anonymous pilot is not featured in this photo.play

The anonymous pilot is not featured in this photo.

(Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)
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