Hooters, the US restaurant chain known for its buxom waitresses in skimpy outfits, has pushed back the opening of its first Cambodian branch in Phnom Penh until December, and could open an outlet in Siem Reap as early as next year, according to sources close to the project.
The two Cambodian branches are part of a 30-location Southeast Asia development agreement between Atlanta-based Hooters Inc and Bangkok-based international franchisee, Destination Resorts Co Ltd signed in January 2015. Four outlets have already opened in Thailand, including a monster 560-seat restaurant in Pattaya – the American chain’s largest offshore outlet to date.
Destination Resorts registered Hooters Cambodia in March and set about refurbishing a two-storey building at the corner of Sisowath Quay and Street 104 in the capital’s Riverside neighbourhood, an area popular with tourists and local expats. Construction on the building was originally slated for completion in July, but was gradually pushed back until October.
A worker at the site, who spoke on condition that his name was not used, said his crew began the final stage of construction in early September after a concrete pour and was on track to complete the work by early December. He attributed part of the project’s delay to complications arising from the old building’s frame.
However, Win Lwin, general manager of Hooters Cambodia, said yesterday there was no one particular reason for the delay.
“It takes time to open up a good restaurant,” he said. “We can’t rush it because we will have people coming in and eating there, so we have to make sure that everything is working and everything is correct.”
The restaurant will feature televised sports, Western food, cold beer and cocktails, and seating for nearly 100 customers. An initial staff of around 40 will include chefs, security guards and the iconic Hooters Girls – attractive female waitresses clad in the chain’s signature cleavage-bearing tank tops and high-cut orange shorts.
While Hooters has positioned its Phnom Penh outlet at the head of a string of “girlie bars” that run along Street 104, Win hopes to distance the American chain from comparisons to these hostess bars, which are notorious for paid female companionship and, in some cases, prostitution.
He insisted that Hooters was a family restaurant and would seek to attract middle-income Cambodians and local expatriates, while its waitresses were not available for sexual services.
“It’s an American franchise restaurant where we have chicken wings, barbecue, or something like that. So the idea that it has anything to do with sex is wrong,” he said. “It is a family restaurant, so everybody is welcome.”
Nonetheless, the owner of the Bunny Bar, next door on Street 104, said he expects the opening of Hooters to have a positive effect on business for his and other hostess bars on the street, with the high-profile brand drawing more potential customers to the area.
“My [existing] customers are not likely to go there because it will be expensive,” he said, on condition that his name was not printed. “But [new customers] might go to Hooters for food, then come to my bar after for a drink.”