You’d think she’d be a shoo-in. Smart. Attractive. Majoring in apparel design. Working her way through school. But, apparently, that was kind of the problem.
For some Panhellenic folks, waitressing for the country’s most popular “breastraunt” is the sort of thing you keep off Instagram, at least if you want to go Greek at a school like Auburn.
“Yeah, basically, that’s kind of what I was being told,” 21-year-old Auburn University junior Laiken Baumgartner says. “That [photos of her on the job] was why I wasn’t being selected, or bid on.”
That was back in 2016, her freshman year. She’d only been working at her hometown Hooters in Douglasville, Georgia for six months or so. She was working just a weekend or two each month. But she liked it. She needed it.
“Hooters pays for my school,” she says. “They offer tuition reimbursement for all of their employees. You just bring in your report card. I get $1,200 a semester just for working at Hooters. I wasn’t going to risk that.”
So she didn’t. No big deal. Besides, trying to scrub the internet of every photo of herself in short orange shorts and a tight white tank top (that she says covers more skin than something she’d wear come summer anyway) would have been a pain.
These days, it’d pretty much be impossible. Because Laiken Baumgartner is everywhere.
That’s what happens when you land the cover of the Hooters calendar. Maxim does something on you and your photo gets propped up on every table in every Hooters in the world. But that’s actually only half of it.
Walk into your local Hooters right now and at least one TV will have Laiken on loop. The footage is from last May. She’s gilding down a runway across from Charlotte Motor Speedway through a cloud of orange and white confetti. Sure, it’s a good-looking bikini. But so are the 79 behind her.
It’s what she said in the Q&A portion–that’s why she’s the current Miss Hooters International, the youngest ever.
“Where do you see areas of improvement in our country as a whole,” asked judge (and MMA star) Ovince Saint Preux.
She didn’t hesitate.
“Powerful women, 100 percent. Every single day women are only getting more empowered by our sisters. I mean, look at these girls. These girls are the reason I’m here right now. They are my support system. Hooters in my support system.”
That wasn’t just for pageant points. She really believes it.
“It’s really a company that pushes women to do better,” she says. “If you don’t like the brand, you don’t like the brand. Everybody’s got their own ideas and their own opinions, and it’s not my job to change them.”
Maybe not, but she’s pretty good at it.
Here’s how she finished:
“These girls and every Hooters Girl I’ve ever met are only encouraging people to be better, are only encouraging women to be more individualistic, more empowered, more intelligent, and to go for what they want, and that’s something that’s really important to me, and something I feel that the world is really improving on.”
Laiken is one of only a handful of Hooters Girls to win both the crown and the calendar cover. And, again, she’s the youngest Miss Hooters International ever. It’s like she’s won the Hooters Heisman.
For the company, it’s an advertising dream come true.
She spent the fall touring charity events and Hooters stores across the country, crown in place, Sharpie in hand. She’ll spend the spring waving to NASCAR crowds every weekend. But once she crowns her successor in June, it’s back to serving Budweiser and wings at the Douglasville or (occasionally) Newnan Hooters, at least when she can find the time. She’s got about two years left. College is expensive.
“Obviously, I won’t need Hooters when I get a big girl job, but I’m going to stay with them at least until I’m done with school,” she says.
“You know, milk that tuition reimbursement.”