- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2002

Hooters of America Chairman Robert H. Brooks saw an opportunity when Vanguard Airlines went bust.
The head of the restaurant chain known for its chicken wings and scantily clad waitresses is in position to buy the bankrupt airline. Mr. Brooks will decide within two weeks whether to make an offer for budget carrier Vanguard Airlines, the Kansas City, Mo., company that stopped flying when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month.
"He's very upbeat on Vanguard. He's extremely interested and extremely enthusiastic," said A.J. Block, Mr. Brooks' Atlanta attorney.
Mr. Brooks has started Hooters Air to make court-approved payments to Vanguard and examine the airline's books so he can decide whether to buy it outright or invest in the business.
Just what an airline owned by the man who heads Hooters would look like remains to be seen.
"There's a lot of speculation going on right now. I honestly cannot tell you, because it is so early, how the synergies would work. We have our marketing group, and they have their marketing group. There is a big difference between a restaurant and an airline," Vanguard spokeswoman Elizabeth Cattell said.
Men comprise 70 percent of the people who eat at Hooters, whose buxom waitresses are known for their orange shorts and white, skin-tight shirts.
Mr. Brooks and a group of investors bought expansion and franchise rights for the Hooters chain in 1984, one year after it was founded. Mr. Brooks eventually bought a majority share in Hooters and became its chairman. Hooters owns or franchises 315 restaurants in the United States, South America, Europe and Asia.
He started Eastern Foods in 1967 with a $10,000 investment. The company makes and markets dressings, sauces and bottled water under the Naturally Fresh brand. Hooters and Eastern Foods are based in Atlanta.
"He believes Vanguard would be a nice complement to his other businesses," Mr. Block said.
Vanguard Chief Financial Officer David Rescino said yesterday the airline will liquidate if no investor takes over. The company filed for bankruptcy July 30, listing $39.7 million in assets and $95.9 million in liabilities, according to the voluntary petition for bankruptcy it filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Missouri.
But Vanguard pilots hope Mr. Brooks will make an offer acceptable to the court and creditors.
"Mr. Brooks is a very successful businessman, and if he would make an offer for the company, I'd be very pleased," said Arv Taylor, chairman of the 140-member Vanguard Airline Pilots Association.
Vanguard executives aren't taking a public position on Mr. Brooks' potential offer for the airline, and other potential buyers have emerged.
"We're looking for any successful investor, but what [Mr. Brooks] brings is financial success. We're pleased he's even looking at us," Miss Cattell said. "I know there are others who are interested, but I can't give you a definitive number. Mr. Brooks is definitely a lead player."
A bankruptcy judge approved a request last week by Mr. Brooks to give Vanguard $50,000 a week. The money is coming from Hooters Air and is helping fund the salaries of the remaining 29 persons working at Vanguard. Nearly all of the airline's 1,200 employees were laid off when it filed for bankruptcy.
When the money from Hooters Air runs out, Mr. Brooks is expected to decide whether to make an offer for the low-cost carrier, which flew to 18 cities daily, including Myrtle Beach, S.C., home of the Hooters chairman.
As of July 1, the airline made 70 flights a day and carried an average of 6,500 passengers.
Vanguard began to collapse after the September 11 terrorist attacks, when airlines were grounded for two days and travel declined. It lost $31 million in 2001 and lost an additional $8 million during the first quarter of this year.
Vanguard, founded in 1994, filed for bankruptcy protection a day after a federal Air Transportation Stabilization Board rejected its request for a $7.5 million loan guarantee. Vanguard did receive a $7.2 million grant from the federal government last year as part of the $5 billion airline industry bailout approved by Congress.
Vanguard, Midway Airlines and US Airways have filed for bankruptcy protection since the attacks. United Airlines has said it may file for bankruptcy in the fall.


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