FREMONT -- The once-sizzling fling between Hooters and Fremont appears now to be ice cold, as the chain restaurant's owners say sluggish business is forcing them to close their Mowry Avenue location.
The breakup, which will become official with a closure expected next week, is amicable, but one difference seems irreconcilable: Fremont officials say the restaurant's location -- a block from City Hall and in the heart of the city's proposed downtown -- is a prime spot. But Hooters executives say the location, about two miles east of Interstate 880, is the main reason they are closing.
"It's off the beaten path, so we're looking to relocate to another site in Alameda County that is closer to the freeway," said Doug Kappy, a Hooters executive.
Fremont Vice Mayor Anu Natarajan said the imminent vacancy "is good news" because it provides the city an opportunity to add a business that will enhance its vision for a more urban downtown. "I think the most exciting ideas are the ones that people think cannot happen," she said. "I don't know what those specifics are, but it could be a cool sports bar we don't have yet in Fremont. It could be things that bring the younger generation back and give Fremont the cool factor."
She said it's just a matter of time until the area becomes a hot spot, especially after the construction of Whole Foods and higher-density housing in the proposed 110-acre downtown area is completed.
"In about two to three years, I see that being a great location," Natarajan said. "I never liked the notion that Hooters was the gateway to City Hall."
After its opening in early 2007, Hooters drew overflow crowds for a short time. The restaurant-bar succeeded in selling its time-tested formula -- the adolescent fantasy of scantily clad young waitresses serving beer and bar food amid an arsenal of TVs showing sports. Its popularity in its first month in Fremont prompted a woman to picket for several days along Mowry Avenue, holding a sign that accused the business of objectifying women.
Kappy said the protest was the only one he has encountered as an executive at Hooters Bay Area, which operates the remaining four Hooters restaurants in the region in Dublin, San Bruno, Campbell and Rohnert Park. But over subsequent years, the restaurant's novelty -- and its Tri-City customer base -- wore thin.
The restaurant's exit from Fremont comes a year after Hooters left Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco when its lease expired. That closure and the one in Fremont are anomalies, said Kappy, adding that business remains strong for Hooters, which has more than 400 franchises nationwide and is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
The Fremont location's final day will be celebrated with a going-away party from 2 to 5 p.m. Feb. 24. The site's 25 employees were informed of the closure in December to give them time to apply to other Hooters locations, Kappy said.
John Foust and Norm Santos, co-workers at a Union City copier company, said they have regularly held work meetings at Hooters. They stopped by the Fremont location Friday to bid farewell and to discuss work issues while snacking on chicken wings and fried pickles. "I'm going to miss this place during the Fremont Festival of the Arts," said Foust, a Fremont resident. "We always started the day at Hooters, and then went to the festival."
Hooters executives said they are aggressively pursuing Alameda County sites and are flirting with Oakland, Union City and other cities along the I-880 corridor.
"We're looking to relocate as soon as possible," Kappy said. "The Hooters brand is as strong as ever."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.