Racy Restaurant Chain Mulls Takeover of Vanguard Airlines

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A restaurant chain known for its scantily clad waitresses may soon have its name on a stripped airline.
The Hooters restaurant chain logo.

Hooters of America is considering taking over bankrupt and grounded Kansas City, Mo.-based Vanguard Airlines.

Marketing vehicle
The move would serve as a marketing vehicle for the restaurants, which face controversy because of the short-shorts and tank tops worn by its female employees. A name for the airline is undetermined but "Hooters Air" or "Vanguard Sponsored by Hooters" are possibilities. The chain's owl logo and orange and white color scheme would likely be part of the livery.

"I'm not going to say it's going to look like a Hooters restaurant, but you would certainly incorporate some of that branding into it," said Mike McNeil, Hooters vice president for marketing.

Mr. McNeil said female flight attendants would not be dressed in the same fashion as the Hooters waitresses. He said it is unclear how much the airline would mirror the restaurants in being male-targeted.

Hooter image
"I think it remains to be seen as to

Some Hooters from the company's current marketing materials.
what extent the Hooters branding and imaging is brought into it," Mr. McNeil said. "If it's brought into it a lot, then I think certainly we would welcome [female] business coming in, [but] I think you would certainly have a situation where some women might not want to fly that airline."

The airline would be a subsidiary of the Hooters corporation and try to capitalize on synergies between the chain and the planes. The airline could operate charter flights to resort areas with Hooters restaurants. Frequent-flyer programs could offer benefits for restaurant diners, while dining often at the chain could lead to points toward airline tickets. And restaurant employees could earn travel benefits.

Provide airport exposure
Then there's the brand building that comes from planes consistently landing and taking off in airports. "That's going to provide marketing and exposure to the restaurants," Mr. McNeil said.

Vanguard, which has ceased flying, has no planes. They were leased and have been returned to their owners. But the Atlanta-based Hooters' majority owner, Robert H. Brooks, would make a bid for the airline's assets, such as spare parts and computer equipment, and then find a way to finance planes if he opts to make a play for Vanguard.

$50,000 a week
He has been making payments of $50,000 a week to keep a skeleton of the airline afloat. Mr. Brooks would keep the airline's base in Kansas City and has support of Vanguard management.

A call to Vanguard was not immediately returned.

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Kate MacArthur contributed to this report.

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