ORLANDO, Fla. – Hooters of America and a rival restaurant chain began arguing in federal court over who has rights to the concept of using scantily clad women to sell food and beer.
Atlanta-based Hooters of America accuses Ker’s WingHouse of Kissimmee of poaching the idea coined when it opened its first sports bar in Clearwater in 1983, Hooters lawyer Steve Hill said in opening statements Wednesday in Orlando.
“The evidence will show WingHouse has copied the Hooter girl almost from head to toe,” Hill said. “For want of a better expression, the Hooter girl is our Ronald McDonald.”
But Crawford Ker said he based his chain on Knockers, a failing restaurant with an all-female staff in Largo that he took over after retiring from the NFL, according to pretrial deposition.
He opened his first restaurant in 1994 and now has 15 locations, including five in the Orlando area. The chain had revenues of $26 million last year.
“Hooters wants to use the court system to accomplish what it can’t do in the marketplace. It’s going to ask you to create a monopoly,” Ker lawyer Don Conwell said Wednesday. “They’re a 25-year-old chain. There’s new blood coming into town and they’re not up to the competition.”
Hooters said in a trade dress infringement lawsuit filed last year that Ker’s WingHouse stole everything from the design of its parchment menus to staff calendars and celebrity photographs on the walls.
Hooters said other ideas swiped by its rival include hula hoops for waitresses, Christmas lights and surfboards hanging from the ceiling and traffic-style signs on the walls warning “Double Curves” and “Caution: Blonde Thinking.”
Hooters earns more than $750 million a year from nearly 400 restaurants and that success has inspired a host of copycats, Hooters Senior Vice President Michael McNeil said.
“We believe we are defending the integrity of our intellectual property rights,” McNeil said outside the courtroom Wednesday.