In 2001, Biloxi became home to the state's first Hooters restaurant.|
Though some may say the true trademark of the company actually belongs to the servers, others go to simply feast on a plate full of hot and savory "world famous" chicken wings with an ice cold beer.
The casual beach-themed restaurant with an all-wooden interior had oldies playing in the background, 25 televisions sporting a variety of shows and walls covered with celebrity memorabilia.
Before Katrina, it was a bustling hangout for young and old.
"It was the kind of place where people came to have a good time and forget about their troubles outside... it just had a feeling of action and excitement going on all the time," said Peter Meleones, director of operations for the restaurant.
"Of course the Hooters girls provided a fun, entertaining and welcoming atmosphere for anyone who came in the building."
Meleones remembers the last night of business before the storm erased the restaurant off the beach.
Because business was slow due to patrons making hurricane preparations, management boarded up and closed early on what would normally have been an active Saturday evening.
"It was a busy store and one we miss terribly... it was the first Hooters built in Mississippi and that meant something to us," Meleones said.
"You just can't prepare for your restaurant becoming a concrete slab."
Even though he was "shocked and saddened," Meleones was more concerned about the safety and whereabouts of his 90 employees.
Once everyone was accounted for, attitudes shifted to optimism.
The U.S. 49 restaurant, also owned by the same team, absorbed 30 of the employees; the rest of the staff relocated to new jobs.
Plans for the future of the Biloxi Hooters site are still being worked out and although the focus of the owners is opening a franchise in Hattiesburg, Meleones is hopeful about a return.
"It's too soon to tell whether we will be back in the same location, but we will be back somewhere in Biloxi."
- DANA SLEGER