Myrtle Beach, S.C. By Dawn Bryant
The Sun News
Bob Brooks, the businessman who became known for his charity as much as his Hooters restaurants, died Sunday at his Myrtle Beach home. He was 69.
Brooks was found dead in his house around 9:30 or 10 a.m. in the Dunes Club community by his wife and a neighbor after Brooks did not show up for their usual Sunday breakfast, said Horry County, S.C., coroner Robert Edge.
An autopsy will be performed today to determine the cause of death, Edge said.
Brooks seemed fine when he went to lunch with friends Saturday afternoon and then went home for a nap, said Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes, a longtime friend of Brooks.
"He and I have been business partners and best friends for 20 years," Rhodes said. "All of a sudden today we find out that he's passed, and it's just a shock to everybody."
Brooks, chairman of Hooters of America who founded Myrtle Beach-based Hooters Air, was a benefactor whose charity spread from his hometown Horry County to his alma mater, Clemson University, where he graduated with a degree in dairy science.
Horry County leaders mourned the loss Sunday, remembering Brooks as a savvy, yet down-home, businessman who never forgot the small community where he was raised on a 100-acre tobacco farm with no electricity and running water.
Leaders said he was a multimillionaire who always was willing to help Horry County, whether it was by giving $2 million so Coastal Carolina University could build its first football stadium or starting an airline, Hooters Air, in Myrtle Beach to open up new markets for locals and to draw tourists.
Brooks made his fortune on salad dressings and other products made by Naturally Fresh Foods, his Atlanta-based company that he founded in 1967 as Eastern Foods. The company now registers more than $100 million in sales each year.
But he's best known for Hooters restaurants, which he took over in the mid-1990s. He branched out the brand, putting it on airplanes, sports events and a Las Vegas hotel. The chain has 330 restaurants in 43 states and 10 countries.
Though Brooks rescued the lagging Hooters restaurant chain when he took over the business, the airline business got the best of the Brooks.
Three years after launching Hooters Air - opening up direct flights from Myrtle Beach to destinations such as Las Vegas and the Bahamas - the airline couldn't make the financials work, despite boarding about 63,000 passengers in Myrtle Beach last year. Hooters Air dropped scheduled commercial flights in April and now runs charter flights.