TROY, Mich. — A fight to discourage Hooters restaurant from expanding in this well-to-do Detroit suburb by blocking its liquor license has backfired: Now there are two restaurants just two miles apart.
Troy, a high-income city of just 80,000 people and home to the state’s only Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue department stores, now has another distinction. It is the only non-resort city of its size to have two Hooters.
“You come directly off the interstate and that’s the first thing you come to,” said Wade Fleming, a councilman who voted in June to reject the transfer of a liquor license to the new Hooters restaurant from a rundown tavern that once operated at the same location. “That starts to define Troy, I think, and that’s not how we’d like to define Troy.”
Hooters executives want just one restaurant in Troy, but the company won’t close the old one until it’s allowed to serve alcohol at the new restaurant, which opened Monday on a larger, more visible site.
Critics are concerned that the restaurants’ scantily clad servers don’t fit the image the city seeks to project in its Big Beaver commercial district. Fleming said officials are trying to make the area a “world-class corridor.”
City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm said the number of police calls to the old Hooters entered into the decision to reject the license transfer, as did the fact that it would have left Hooters with two liquor licenses in Troy.
After Hooters was denied a liquor license, it went ahead with plans for the new location, obtaining building permits and spending about $1 million renovating what had been a dilapidated bar. Attempts to reach a compromise that would have allowed the new location to serve alcohol failed.
Sixteen dry beer taps stared back at the patrons who lined the bar this week, but manager Mark Grant said the lack of alcohol didn’t hurt opening-day business. And it didn’t faze the mostly male, mostly business-lunch crowd at the restaurant Tuesday.
“I think the Troy City Council, by drawing attention to this whole situation, put Hooters in the newspapers. It kind of backfired somewhat,” said Dave Sanback, who lives and works in Troy. He came with two co-workers and ordered the buffalo chicken sandwich — “the waitress’s favorite, I might add.”
Sanback said he didn’t see how Hooters detracts from the image of Troy, which, he said, has good schools, low crime and top-notch parks and recreation. He added, however, that he wouldn’t bring his 9-year-old daughter to the restaurant.
Hooters, an Atlanta-based chain of 440 restaurants in 26 states and 21 countries, has run into community opposition before when opening new locations. But Mike McNeil, its vice president of marketing, said he knew of no other relocation in the same city that had been so contentious.
McNeil said the police have given the restaurant a good recommendation and the calls the city cites had nothing to do with alcohol. He added that such issues didn’t come up publicly at the time of the council’s decision.
As for the surrounding area’s image, he said it’s in the eye of the beholder.
“It’s not like they have parks or monuments or something like that. This is a commercial corridor, with filling stations, auto repair shops and the like,” McNeil said.
A judge ruled against Hooters’ legal efforts to reverse the city’s decision, and the lawsuit is now in state appeals court. The company also has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the city discriminated against it and denied its right to free expression.
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