Robert H. Brooks
Robert Howell Brooks (February 6, 1937 – July 15, 2006) was founder of Naturally Fresh, Inc. in 1966 in Atlanta, Georgia. He helped create the Hooters of America, Inc. restaurant chain that would eventually drive that company's rapid expansion in the mid–late 1990s.
Early life and career
Born in Loris, South Carolina (near the Myrtle Beach area), Brooks grew up on a tobacco farm. A 1960 dairy science graduate of Clemson University, Brooks spent time in the United States Army before founding Naturally Fresh Foods, a condiment and salad dressing manufacturer in the Atlanta area, in 1967.. He was raised as Methodist.
Involvement with Hooters
In 1984, Brooks bought the expansion and franchise rights for Hooters from Lynn D. Stewart and his five minority partners. Brooks founded Hooters America, Inc., along with a group of investors. He eventually got majority control and chairmanship of the entire organization. Under Brooks' leadership, Hooters expanded from half a dozen restaurants (in and around Clearwater, Florida) in the mid-1980s; to over 430 stores worldwide (including Taiwan, Venezuela, and Switzerland).
The company also included Hooters Air, an airline that ran from 2004 to 2006; the Hooters Pro Cup (auto racing); the Hooters Pro Tour (golf); the Hooters Casino Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, which opened in February 2006; and the Hooters MasterCard, which debuted in March 2006.
Brooks purchased the Hooters trademark from the company's founders in 2001. He turned over control of the company to his son, Coby, in 2003; and retired to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Brooks would still come up and visit the Atlanta headquarters on a weekly basis, though. Even after his retirement from Hooters, he was still affectionately known as the "World Wide Wing Commander" by company employees.
Donations to South Carolina universities
Brooks was a major donor to universities in South Carolina. The Robert H. Brooks Performing Arts Center at Clemson, completed during the 1993-94 school year, was named in his honor following a large donation. He also donated $2 million to Coastal Carolina University (Conway, SC) in 2003 to create their first football stadium which the university named Brooks Stadium in his children's honor. He also created the Brooks Motorsports Institute (now Brooks Institute for Sports Science), the first of its kind in the US, at Clemson University about the study of the motorsports industry in the US.
Hooters and Hurricane Katrina
Brooks returned $200 to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2005 when it was found out that one of the refugees from Hurricane Katrina spent $200 on a bottle of expensive champagne at the restaurant, earning praise from government officials for his actions.
He is survived by his wife Tami, and four children Coby, Boni, Jerrett Oates (stepson), and Christi Oates (stepdaughter). The eldest son from his first marriage, Mark, was killed in an April 1, 1993 plane crash with 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup (now NASCAR Sprint Cup) champion, Alan Kulwicki. Younger son Coby Brooks became President and CEO of Hooters, Inc. and Naturally Fresh, Inc., but left Hooters after the sale of the company in 2011.
Tributes to Brooks
Following the announcement of Brooks' death on July 17, 2006, the main page of the Hooters website changed their sign to "Farewell World Wide Wing Commander" that ran from July 17, 2006 to September 10, 2006. A tribute was also done in the July 31, 2006 comic strip Prickly City.
The 2007 Hooters swimsuit calendar was also dedicated in his memory.