by Todd Kliman
Big-time restaurants are laying off sous chefs, portion sizes are shrinking dramatically and splashy theme restaurants are dead. The crisis continues to deepen for the restaurant industry in America, with business off dramatically in most big cities from this time last year. The hope among the hopeful (what few remain) is that budget nights, deep discounts and a return to classic comfort cooking at all levels will rouse restaurants from their slump.
It seems unlikely.
There is, however, a restaurant concept that continues to thrive amid extraordinarily tough times. A concept that seems to be impervious to the vagaries of the market. The "breastaurant."
One new kid on the block takes on the current champ, after the jump...
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Hooters racked up (ahem) nationwide sales of $997 million last year, a two-percent improvement over 2007. For the sake of comparison, Ruby Tuesday "reported a $37.4 loss in the most recent quarter."
At least one restaurant chain has taken notice. And declared war on Hooters for the beer-drinking, wing-munching, bosom-ogling demographic.
The turf is Texas, where Hooters ranks no. 1 nationally among all franchisees. Promising "scenic views," a company called Twin Peaks recently opened in Bedford, its sixth location in the state, with a roster of buxom, beaming waitresses clad in black-and-red gingham tops tied so snugly they look as if they're about to pop open.
Oh, and lots and lots of cold beer. And food; there's also food.
There's a Twin Peaks in Albuquerque, and one coming later this year to Tulsa. The owner of the Bedford franchise is so confident that he's sitting on money, he's just bought the rights to license Twin Peaks in the entire state of Arizona.
Michael McNeil, the V.P. of marketing for Hooters, seems unfazed by the enormous growth of its closest competitor, telling the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram: "At this point, there's no Avis to our Hertz."
Not yet, anyway.
But clearly there's some sort of message here for skittish industry vets: When things go bust ... go bust.
Todd Kliman is a James Beard Award-winning restaurant critic and the food and wine editor of Washingtonian magazine. The Wild Vine, his book about the Rosetta stone of American wine, is due in 2009.