A massive remodeling project at the restaurant on Gulf To Bay Boulevard is nearly complete, and the iconic wing joint is set to open for business at 11 a.m. Monday (Feb. 13).
Workers are putting the finishing touches on the $1.8 million project that . The entire structure, which opened in 1983, was either torn down or gutted.
More than 2,100 square feet of space has been added, and amenities include an indoor/outdoor bar, 35 flat screen TVs, 224 seats and the MuSEEum, an area full of classic Hooters memorabilia.
Neil Kiefer, CEO of Hooters Management Corporation, expressed how pleased he is to begin this new chapter in Hooters history at a press event Friday.
"The project was long overdue. Thanks to our landlord's contributions... It's allowed us to be here hopefully another 20 years. But we had to evolve... And we're excited about it."
One of the main concerns in renovating the building was how to modernize the facility without losing its charm or identity.
But, Kiefer says, thanks to a lot of hard work, they were able to pull it off.
There was a lot of debate "over whether to level and knock the whole thing down or keep it. But I think we've done a good job of integrating the old... So you have that historic feel, yet in a new facility that the people will enjoy," Kiefer said.
Also on hand for the event was the original Hooters girl, Lynne Austin.
The Tampa Bay icon, who was immortalized on posters and billboards for the franchise and was the first girl to wear the Hooters uniform, recalled how far the company has come since its introduction to the area restaurant scene.
"It's just head-shaking, it really is. Because you had to have been here the first day, the first week... When I was basically starving to death," she recalled. "And to go from opening week when nobody was here... To a few weeks later, there were three hour waits to get in for chicken wings and beer. It was amazing."
And how does the original face of the franchise feel about the new look?
"When they told me they were going to do this I was like, 'aw you guys, c'mon that's home. Don't mess with an icon'," Austin admitted. "But now that I've seen what they've done to it and what they've put into it, it's going to be great."
"I can't wait for it to open," she added.
The Original Hooters
Address: 2800 Gulf to Bay Blvd.
*updated 5 p.m. Feb. 10.