‘Big Gamble’ Paying Off Well For Hooters’ Newest Operation

OCEAN CITY — Hooters of Ocean City’s new 5th Street location might be the new kid on the block as far as Boardwalk businesses go, but in just its third week of being open it’s drawing crowds like a seasoned veteran.

Hooters Director of Operations Matthew J. Ortt says that the 5th Street location is like “a new baby that we are prepping for the future,” but he said that the early signs are pointing to a bright one.

“I saw the impact and the potential for this location in about the first 10 minutes that we were open on the first day,” said Ortt. “I ran back from City Hall at noon with the final certificates of occupancy and walked in the door, yelled, ‘we got it’, and we opened the doors to the public. We had done zero advertising and we just opened the doors just to get up and running for the season. Within 15 minutes, we were over half full, and by 2 o’clock we were totally full and we stayed full the rest of the night.”

Ortt and the Hooters team have enjoyed years of success on 123rd Street and have become known as one of the most successful Hooters franchises in the entire world during the summer months. After years of seeking out the perfect location for a second operation in the area, the 5th Street location, which was formerly a T-shirt shop and, previously a bingo parlor, presented itself and quickly came to fruition.

Ortt was quick to point out that the organization had a lot of help to get open for the summer.

“Everyone from Kay Strout in the Planning and Zoning Department at the city, who was the most helpful woman in the world considering how new we were in the permit process in downtown Ocean City, to the Bank of Ocean City, who believed in us and invested in us, and were vital in helping us get open in just nine weeks, three days,” said Ortt. “Everyone in the community that could help us did help us, from the contractors to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and we are just so appreciative of that.”

The building is owned by three non-profit organizations, The Lions Club, the Volunteer Fire Department and the American Legion, and Ortt says the partnership with the organizations has been stellar from day one.

Though Ortt says he knew that the immense foot traffic that would be walking past the new location would benefit the laid back and family-oriented dining experience, with an emphasis on the eye candy mantra of Hooters, he says that in the first three weeks, he’s been amazed by just how much foot traffic there is.

“[The foot traffic is] just huge, and now I know why people are willing to pay so much money to rent a place on the Boardwalk,” he said, “but people have just told us how much fun they are having here and how much they love this new location. If you look around, it’s all families, and that’s what it’s all about. All day long, I hear people walking by saying, ‘oh my God, there’s a Hooters here, let’s go in,’ and that is just phenomenal.”

Ortt said that although the organization felt that the 5th Street location would be a good “fit” with the masses on the Boardwalk, he said that any new business starting up in the current economic conditions is taking a risk.

“It’s a big gamble right now for anyone in this economy,” said Ortt, “but we are creating jobs and we are open and really doing well heading into the busiest portion of the season, and we are on pace to beat our projections that we set for ourselves the first year. We just hope that more people continue to come and check out the new place and keep coming back.”

With 66 seats outside and 105 inside the restaurant, Ortt says the capacity is slightly less than they could have put in the new place, but he says that the added space for people was done on purpose to kind of enhance the already casual atmosphere that comes with an ocean view.

“We don’t want to put people on top of each other,” said Ort. “We want to create a nice atmosphere to sit and relax and watch the people on the Boardwalk and just enjoy the view. I mean can you get a much better view than all of this?”