Becoming a Hooters Girl isn't something everyone in the family will understand.

Chante Rivera did it a year and a half ago.

"My mom was so excited," said Rivera. "She's like, "You're going to have so much fun there. You are so pretty. I am so proud of you." My dad, he said, "I'm going to pray for you.'"

Rivera's grandmother and friends from church didn't get it, either. "I was going to church every Sunday," Rivera said, "but now, football season, can't go."

Rivera is 20 years old and pursuing a degree in marketing from Metropolitan State College of Denver. She had to find a way to pay for her schooling, and the Hooters on Colorado Boulevard in Denver is what she found.

Her parents lost the home Rivera grew up in to foreclosure, she said. Her father, who does construction work, has had trouble staying employed.

The nation's unemployment rate has topped 9% for more than 20 months --the longest it has done so since the Great Depression. But at Hooters some guys will still tip $100 on a couple of beers.

"The guys who've given me $100 tips have never once asked me out," Rivera said. "They just want to have a pretty girl sit and talk with them."

Rivera has been working since age 13. She once worked at a Taco Bell/KFC. Her friends, many from upper-middle class homes, didn't understand that, either.

"They were like, "Oh my God." It just seemed [to them] such a lowly thing to do. But it was a job."

Rivera also worked as a waitress at an Outback Steakhouse. There, she wore black pants and an unrevealing shirt. But she said she still drew attention.

"Guys are going to be guys," Rivera said. "No matter where you go."

Oscar Wilde once wrote that beauty is a form of genius. To the Irish poet and playwright, it was even better than genius because it required no explanation.

Hooters sells beauty. And Rivera is one of the chain's more than 20,000 Hooters Girls worldwide.

Brian Weston owns 20 Hooters franchises Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, as well as at the Mall of America in Minnesota, and he's always looking for the next Hooters Girl. He said he looks for some of the same qualities one seeks for a cheerleading squad. "It's the all-American girl," he explained. "The girl next door."

It is, after all, a family restaurant.

"On Saturdays, kids eat for free," Rivera said. "We always have kids' birthday parties here, too. We'll give them balloons. They'll ride around the restaurant on scooters. They play with Hula Hoops and bouncy balls...The little boys that have a birthday party here, they get more excited than the girls. But all the kids have fun."

Weston suggested I bring my 11-year-old son in to try out the kids menu. Rivera, I thought, would be a wholesome role model. She told me things I never heard a woman say before.

"I hate shopping," she said. "I hate it so much. I can't justify spending money on clothes when I already have clothes...Everything I have in my life, I pay for...To be honest, do you know where I shop? Goodwill."

So I imagined explaining this to my son as he watched a big game at Hooters: Our consumer-driven society has long forgotten that frugality is a virtue, but not Chante.

My wife said no possible way am I taking our son into Hooters. She wasn't happy that I went there, either, purely for research purposes, of course.

The National Organization of Women doesn't like kids going to Hooters, either. Last month, its California chapter filed complaints with prosecutors and police in San Francisco, San Bruno, Sacramento and Orange County about Hooters serving children.

Hooters often faces discrimination charges for hiring attractive girls of certain dimensions.

"Many restaurants do this," Weston told me. "We're just up-front about it."

To defend itself, Hooters has sometimes argued it is an adult-entertainment venue. As such, it has just as much right to select its cast as directors of a Broadway play. You don't see controversies about scantly clad Dallas Cowgirls or Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, do you?

The feminist group argues Hooter's can't have it both ways. You are either a family restaurant or an adult-entertainment venue.

Rivera says it's business as usual: "People just want something to complain about."