More than three years ago, Coby Brooks was a bit of a guinea pig on a new CBS show called "Undercover Boss," pretending to be a cook, a busboy,a promotions guy and a store manager at his own company, Atlanta-based Hooters.
It was only the second episode and drew an impressive 15.4 million viewers.
The show is now in its fifth season and it has focused on several Atlanta companies since then, including Cinnabon, Moe's and Rollins. Tonight (Sept. 27), the fifth season debut features Dallas-based Twin Peaks, which is clearly inspired by Hooters. There are the obvious double entendres and the scandily clad female wait staff in short shorts and plaid tops that leave little to the imagination.
Brooks, whose father Robert first ran the Atlanta-based Hooters of America franchise, left that company after an ownership change in 2011 and purchased a Twin Peaks franchise operation covering much of the Southeast.
While Hooters runs more than 400 stores worldwide, Twin Peaks is relatively small with 42, including five run by Brooks. There is one Twin Peaks in Buckhead across from what was once nicknamed "Disco Kroger" and it's where Brooks works.
He said he was invited back by CBS to do the show again but informed the producer he was not the man in charge - it was Randy DeWitt. The show still wanted him on in some capacity and DeWitt was game. So Brooks shaved his head, let an already existing beard grow out and entered a Texas Twin Peaks to be a pain-in-the-butt customer to test employee reactions.
"I was a plant," he said. "I sat at the bar and tried to get under the girl's skin."
Naturally, Brooks hopes the exposure will help his franchise operation and place Twin Peaks in a good light.
So how is Twin Peaks different from Hooters? "The food is all made from scratch," he said. "It's a laid-back country lodge theme. It's a whole different mindset. We place a huge emphasis on sports. We have 100 TVs at the Buckhead location."
And, he added, "customers seems to accept our outfits more than in my prior life." (They are comparably revealing, if anything.)
He said he still gets feedback from folks who saw his "Undercover Boss" episode who wondered why he didn't fire the manager who held a contest for his employees to eat beans without their hands. It was demeaning but Brooks was in a franchise operation and didn't have authority to fire the guy. "They told me not to break cover," he said. He has seen others do so in later episodes. (A Boston Market boss fired an Duluth-based employee on camera for obnoxious behavior.)
Previous stories I wrote referencing Coby Brooks:
"Undercover Boss," 8 p.m., Fridays, starting Sept. 27, CBS