Hooters aims to cut ties with partner over poor conditions

ATLANTA – Two Hooters restaurants on the East Coast have been abandoned, and one was operated in filthy conditions, turning off customers and damaging the national brand, the Georgia-based parent company of Hooters restaurants says in a federal lawsuit.

Hooters of America is suing Hoot Owl Restaurants LLC, which has operated 12 Hooters restaurants in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Delaware and Pennsylvania, all under franchise agreements.

Officials with Hooters and Hoot Owl did not respond to phone messages and emails seeking comment Wednesday.

The franchise operator violated its agreement by abandoning Hooters restaurants in Warwick, Rhode Island, and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, among other things, Hooters’ parent company says in the lawsuit. It was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.

“The Warwick restaurant was in such deplorable condition in July 2014 that Hoot Owl ‘voluntarily’ closed the restaurant in order to perform necessary repairs and maintenance following a health department inspection,” the lawsuit states.

Inspectors found mouse droppings in the bar area, “to-go” containers stored on a shelf with mouse droppings, and a smelly walk-in refrigerator, among other violations, according to a Rhode Island Department of Health report attached as an exhibit to the lawsuit.

After multiple negative reports from health inspectors, the same restaurant was then damaged by a storm in March 2015 and never reopened, Hooters’ parent firm states. The company said it sent people to visit the restaurant recently and found all of the Hooters signs still in place, though the business has been closed for more than a year.

Hooters’ parent company is asking a federal judge to determine which state laws govern its rights to terminate its franchise agreements with Hoot Owl. There was no indication Wednesday how soon a judge might rule.

Hooters of America has already terminated Hoot Owl’s franchise rights for three Hooters restaurants in and around Philadelphia, the parent company said in the lawsuit.