Robert Howell Brooks is a man whose philanthropy and love of Clemson University inspired him to give generously to his alma mater. His $2.5 million dollar gift established the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts and has enabled hundreds of thousands of patrons to experience world-class performances, and given countless students the opportunity to pursue their artistic passion.
Mr. Brooks took his place in a long line of Clemson philanthropists dating back to the original gift of Thomas Green Clemson to the state of South Carolina. Mr. Clemson gave so that the youth of South Carolina could receive a quality education,
and W. B. Camp, a beneficiary of Mr. Clemson’s vision, also gave so that students like Robert Brooks could afford to attend Clemson University. Mr. Brooks made the most of the scholarship that Mr. Camp provided for him, and he honored this tradition of generosity with many contributions to the university. His legacy is intertwined with the generations that preceded him and stands to
inspire those who follow.
Born in 1937, Robert Brooks grew up on a farm in Loris, South Carolina. He developed a strong work ethic as a result of his rural background and earned a degree in Dairy Science at Clemson University in 1960. After an internship in Gastonia, North Carolina, Mr. Brooks moved on to a sales job at a dairy plant in Rock Hill, South Carolina. As a child working on the family farm, he never envisioned that he would become revolutionary in the food-service industry; however, he eventually founded Naturally Fresh, Inc. and became the chairman of Hooters of America, Inc., when he purchased the franchise rights to the restaurant chain. Both companies are highly successful Atlanta-based corporations well known for innovation.
In 1961, he joined a food processing company in Atlanta as a sales engineer before serving active duty in the United States Army during the Berlin Crisis. After his military service, Mr. Brooks joined a food formula company in Philadelphia and saved to pursue his dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
Mr. Brooks formed Eastern Foods in 1966 and combined his dairy background and entrepreneurial drive to develop the first non-dairy creamer in 1967, which primarily served the airline industry. Over time, Eastern Foods began to focus on a more diverse food business. Now known as Naturally Fresh, the company boasts such brands as Jackaroo Meat Sauces, Naturally Fresh dressings, sauces, and dips.
In 1984, he began an association with Hooters, a casual beach-themed restaurant chain. Mr. Brooks’ division of Hooters of America, Inc. controlled the developmental rights to the concept and quadrupled sales from 1990 through 1995. In April 2001, he consolidated the Hooters concept with the purchase of the trademark from its founders, enabling him to have full control over all business decisions. Today, Hooters has revenue approaching $1 billion dollars annually with locations throughout the United States and around the world.