It takes a daring entrepreneur to open a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic. But that’s exactly what Phil Moran, a 40-year restaurant veteran has done by opening New Jersey’s first Hoots Wings in Newport.
A spin-off of the well known Hooters chain, the “fast casual” restaurant opened at 525 Washington Boulevard on December 20.
Moran spent years looking for a Jersey City location for an actual Hooters but came up empty. “We had been looking to do a Hooters in Jersey City for eight to ten years but we could never find a location that had a liquor license available.”
“We always loved the demographics of Jersey City. It’s an amazing place..when this [Hoots] concept became available to us, without the requirement to have a liquor license, we stepped up to the plate right away.”
Moran got his start with Hooters, opening up the chain’s second location in 1984, and went on to become the exclusive franchisee in New Jersey and three other states. He and his partners own 14 bars and restaurants including the Tropicana in Atlantic City.
Over the years, feminists have taken Hooters to task for what they view as its objectification of women. But Moran is unapologetic. Asked about Hooters’s reputation for buxom, scantily clad “Hooters girls,” he replies “It’s more like Florida cheerleader. Being athletic is part of being a cheerleader” he says. “Florida cheerleaders in all sizes and shapes.”
But there won’t be any Hooters girls at Hoots Wings. The concept is as uncontroversial as it is familiar. The decor is modern industrial with a concrete floor and exposed HVAC ducts.
Aside from a range of wings prepared in different styles, it offers a chicken sandwich, fried shrimp and sides like fried pickles, mac and cheese and mozzarella sticks.
On a recent visit, a very friendly, modestly dressed young woman took this writer’s order. A “lunch special” comprised of smoked wings came with blue cheese dip and fries on the side. With a drink, the bill came to $9.59.
What differentiates Hoots Wings from the competition? Moran points to their sauce and their use of fresh chicken. “I’ve eaten at the competitors and none of their products compare to our chicken wings.”
As a businessman, Moran likes franchises. “It’s a great model. It’s modeled to get your money back in two to five years.”
How did the buildout in Jersey City go? Moran is diplomatic. It took ten months from lease signing to opening. “Everyone was very helpful.” He mentions, however, that in Georgia and Alabama the process is closer to ten weeks.
With so much restaurant experience, I had to ask what the secret to success is. “That’s easy. It’s the people that you hire. If you’re able to hire people with a great attitude and a great work ethic you’re going to be successful.”
For Moran, Hoots Wings takes “the best menu items of Hooters” and does it “without feminine sex appeal.” Here in Jersey City, that formula will probably work just fine.