Hooters: Franchise partner damaging its brand on East Coast

ATLANTA – Swarming flies and a plumbing backup plagued a now-abandoned New Jersey Hooters, the restaurant chain’s parent firm said in an ongoing court battle with one of its business partners.

The Hooters in Paramus, New Jersey, is the latest restaurant that fell into “deplorable” conditions, closed and will further damage the company’s national brand, Georgia-based Hooters of America LLC said in recent court filings.

The allegations are part of a federal lawsuit involving Hooters of America and Hoot Owl Restaurants, which operates several Hooters establishments in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The franchise operator is damaging the Hooters brand by failing health inspections and by abandoning restaurants in Warwick, Rhode Island; Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; and most recently in Paramus, the parent company maintains in the lawsuit.

“This third closure of one of Hoot Owl’s franchised restaurants will cause even more damage to the goodwill of the Hooters brand,” Hooters of America states in court filings.

Three lawyers for Hoot Owl Restaurants, which operates the East Coast group of Hooters restaurants, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Calls and emails to the Georgia-based parent firm were not returned Tuesday or Wednesday.

Hooters of America is asking a federal judge to decide which states govern its franchise agreements with Hoot Owl so that it can terminate them.

At the Warwick restaurant, inspectors found mouse droppings in the bar area, “to-go” containers stored on a shelf with mouse droppings, and a smelly walk-in refrigerator, among other violations, according to a Rhode Island Department of Health report attached as an exhibit to the lawsuit.

In August, an inspection uncovered several major violations at the Paramus Hooters, according to the lawsuit. Issues included “plumbing backup present all throughout basement.”

“There are standing pools of water present on the floors,” the inspection report states.

The restaurant was then closed. An executive from the parent company travelled to Paramus to inspect the conditions, but a representative of the franchise operator refused to allow him inside, the lawsuit states.