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At Hooters it’s more than just wings, it’s the legs too

by Brian Clarey

Every now and again we in the media come across a story that has legs ‘— one that lives on after our initial reporting hits the streets, generating further wrinkles and developments, and often requiring extended coverage in future issues. In journalism we call this coverage a ‘follow-up’ story, an update on the current state of the situation.

This story has legs.

A few weeks back I had the honor of judging a bikini contest at the Hooters of Greensboro and I reported on the event in a column. That night my fellow judges and I identified a clear standout among the ranks; once we saw her we knew the real contest would be for second place.

That event was a regional bracket for a national competition held annually by the owl-themed restaurant, the winners of which then went on to compete against other winners from across the state at an event held on Saturday, May 21 at the same Greensboro Hooters. Finalists in this event will travel to the national event, to be held in Miami on Tuesday, June 17.

And the winner of that event on Saturday night was our girl from the Greensboro Hooters, Elizabeth Johnston, Gate City born and raised.

That’s another reason why this is a good story: Elizabeth lived here most of her life, was in fact a member of Wesleyan Academy’s Class of 2001. In journalism-ese this is known as ‘impact.’

‘“I really didn’t expect to win,’” she says to me. ‘“There were so many pretty girls’….’”

This is a big deal ‘— there’s twenty-five grand in it for the winner and a modeling and promotional contract to boot. And also, we imagine, a lot of free clothes.

‘“I’m gonna go in confident,’” she says. ‘“I’m not stuck on winning ‘— I just want to enjoy the experience.’”

Elizabeth has been with the Hooters organization since November, 2003, when as a student at ECU she fulfilled a personal goal: attaining employment at the wings-and-cleavage emporium’s outpost in Greenville.

‘“When I was fifteen I said, ‘When I’m eighteen I’m gonna be a Hooters girl.””

The realization of a dream ‘— another component to the story that makes it a sound one. It’s compelling.

She’s been at the Greensboro store since August.

‘“It’s not like regular restaurant work,’” she says. ‘“There’s a lot more than just waiting tables.’”

Indeed. On a recent research-related trip to the jiggle palace I took note of the waitstaff, who not only were taking and running orders of food but gathering at tables, sitting to chat with customers and performing song-and-dance routines for diners who were in the restaurant for the first time. They never stopped.

Johnston says that the job comes with a minor social agenda as well, with group trips to auto races, corporate outings and work-related jaunts to Myrtle Beach (a Hooters town if ever there was one ‘— they have three of them) to lend support to the waiters down there, particularly during Bike Week.

‘“We work really hard,’” she says.

She also confirms my suspicions about the uniform.

‘“It’s not comfortable.’” She says the outfit, a two-piece ensemble with a ribbed tank top and orange running shorts worn high and tight, was based on an outfit worn by the secretary of the company’s founder when she went jogging. This was back in the early ’80s, she says.

The attire she’ll be wearing in Miami will be a bit more contemporary ‘— with a portion of the competition devoted to evening wear, swimsuits by Venus and a final round where the women choose their own swimsuits.

‘“My mom is really good at sewing,’” Elizabeth says. ‘“I’m gonna see if she can make me one ‘— something unique.’”

Elizabeth, by the way, looks really good in a bathing suit. The story has beauty. And that, my friends, is the last piece in the puzzle I need to convince myself that the piece I’ve just written is, indeed, good journalism and not just a cheesy attempt to draw traffic to our website (where, by the way, we’ve posted pics of each round of the Greensboro Hooters competitions. Check it out at yesweekly.com).

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