Hooters Lawsuit Claims Rival Restaurant Stole ‘Trade Secrets'
WASHINGTON -- Hooters, the restaurant chain famous for its scantily clad Hooters Girls, sued the partner of an upstart rival in Georgia federal court this week, accusing the company developing Twin Peaks restaurants and a former Hooters executive of stealing trade secrets in their bid to take on the “delightfully tacky yet unrefined” restaurant chain.
In their lawsuit, Hooters claims that Joseph Hummel, former Hooters vice president, jumped ship to help develop the similarly themed Twin Peaks restaurants (motto: “Eats, Drinks, Scenic Views”) in July and took “sensitive business information” with him. The alleged trade secrets apparently involve more than just skimpy waitress outfits. According to the suit, in the weeks leading up to his departure to Twin Peaks development partner La Cima Restaurants, Hummel downloaded and emailed to his private account a “substantial volume” of Hooters documents, including plans related to management, recruitment, distribution and sales.
Although Hooters has more than 400 locations throughout the country, the two so-called breastaurant companies could soon have a rivalry in Georgia and other parts of the Southeast. According to the lawsuit, Hummel’s departure coincided with a number of other high-ranking defections from Hooters to La Cima, including former Hooters CEO Coby Brooks. Hummel is now chief operating officer at La Cima, which, like Hooters, is based in Atlanta.
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A lawyer for Hooters referred questions to a Hooters spokesman, who could not be reached. A lawyer for La Cima did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Twin Peaks currently has 15 restaurants in five states, but last month it announced plans to open 35 franchises throughout the Southeast over the course of the next decade. Judging from the company’s website, the restaurants share many similarities with the better-known Hooters -- namely, chicken wings in the fryer, Ultimate Fighting Championship fights on the big screen, and precious little clothing on the servers. But whereas Hooters waitresses don the trademark white tank tops and orange short shorts, Twin Peaks servers tend to wear a mountain-themed ensemble of flannel bikini-like tops paired with tan hiker shorts.
In the lawsuit, Hooters says their “iconic” Hooters Girls are the “cornerstone of the [Hooters] concept,” and notes that “Twin Peaks directly competes with [Hooters] in the market of casual dining restaurants with an all female waitstaff.” Hummel recently told the Atlanta Business Chronicle that within the next seven years Twin Peaks expects to launch as many as seven franchises in the Atlanta area, going head to head with Hooters at its core. He also said the chain would differentiate itself from its competitor, saying Twin Peaks “brings a different feel, a different makeup of food.”
In their efforts to expand, Twin Peaks has apparently had a hard time avoiding lawsuits with other restaurants whose names play on breasts. In 2009, the chain’s parent company sued a competitor called Grand Tetons LLC in federal court in Texas, claiming that the company’s plans to open a restaurant in Arkansas called Northern Exposure infringed on Twin Peaks’ “trade dress.”