Today MTV has loosed upon the world Big Tips Texas, a faux-reality show about the buxom waitresses of Lewisville’s Southern-stripper-themed restaurant, Redneck Heaven. Judging from the promos , the fourteen-episode arc will focus primarily on drinking, cussing, screwing, and fighting, with frequent subplots involving betrayal, name-calling, applying to Harvard, and other cable-friendly degradations of contemporary Gomorrah. It could be worse.
It makes perfect sense to choose Texas as the show's locale. Our state has recently become a sort of corporate headquarters for breast-n-something themed eateries, due in large part to the state’s rising breastauranteur, Doug Guller. While others in his very specific line of food-service prefer to play footsie with innuendos, Guller would much rather skip the foreplay. “Bikinis” is his restaurant. And in it there is nary an allusion to the Marshall Islands or atomic bombs. As if to bring home the point, this spring Guller applied for—and was granted—a trademark on the ubiquitous portmanteau, “breastaurant.” Legally speaking, Bikinis really is the “World’s only breastaurant.” And in his quest for continued breastaurant domination, Guller bought a “town” this year, renamed it Bikinis, Texas, and is banking on the idea that an actual Redneck Heaven can arise just beyond the city limits of Fredericksburg.
The idea that a heterosexual male would pass up an easy opportunity to attend the grand opening of a town explicitly dedicated to breasts and beer is ludicrous. Of course I went. After an hour and half of driving in the July heat, at the end of a snaky, narrow country road just off U.S. 290, I found a place where determined travelers would be welcomed with cold libations, a bikini contest, and a glimpse of the world-famous beauty—such as she is—Carmen Electra, the inaugural inductee into the Bikinis Bust of Fame. The cost of entering paradise, without proper credentials, was $40.
Carmen’s presence in town was unmistakable. Her white limo was parked between a small cemetery and the “town” of Bikinis, a 1.67-acre plot of land once known as Bankersmith (though that point is debatable). Beyond that lay a field where a fawn was seen bounding toward the cover of trees and a pristine hillside. Before Guller purchased the land, a move that garnered the attention of the media—and, unsurprisingly, the ire of his new neighbors—there was only an abandoned general store on the country property.
But Guller remodeled the humble shack into a saloon, built a gazebo-like porch extending out the back to accommodate the lingerie pageant and quickly raised a barn-style concert hall for the inaugural musical act, Jerry Jeff Walker. With the infrastructure complete and the newly arrived citizenry, Bikinis seemed to be simultaneously hosting a stripper convention, music festival, bike rally and—by proximity to civilization—a Boy Scout jamboree. Blues standards were the noise ordinance, and bra-clad women operated a beer stall. Whatta boomtown.
It had a mayor to match, too. Guller, declared to be one of Austin's "most eligible bachelors” by Austin Monthly, introduced himself to me by saying “Dude, why are you buying?" before proffering three drink tickets. A fit man flanked by a smartly dressed woman, Guller wore a cowboy hat over his bald head, a nice watch, and a red shirt that read "BFD: Bikinis Fire Department” with an official looking emblem. Except for strutting purposely through the town, Guller looked like another a chill dude waiting for a bikini contest to commence.
By the time the competition started, about two hundred people had packed into Bikinis' city limits. The six contestants were very pretty. And pretty naked. Suddenly captivated, the crowding men deposited their beers and leveled camera phones like trumpeters at a coronation. One took an extreme closeup. He bonded momentarily with a stranger who admired the photo's angle and asked to be sent a copy, immediately, via text. Even the camera-less women seemed to be enjoying themselves. There were no losers. Particularly since no winner was ever officially announced.
Then Guller mounted the stage with Carmen, a smile super-glued to her face. Whatta pro. Like her cut-off jean shorts, Carmen was shockingly tiny in real life, wearing a Texas-inspired outfit: boots, a hat, the straw components of which were forced into a cowboyish shape, and a vaguely western shirt tied above her pierced belly button. She looked like one of the Bikinis bartenders, though perhaps better rested. Cameras were once again hoisted, this time frantically, as Carmen unveiled her Bust-of-Fame, a bronzed cast of her chest. After her brief appearance onstage, fans who purchased wristbands had the chance to meet the Baywatch star inside the saloon. Roughly eighty people paid more than $60 for the privilege. This included one conspicuous older gentleman, a Bikinis regular/photography hobbyist wearing a homemade shirt featuring eleven iron-on images of Carmen Electra and a fanny pack. Guller stood by, clearly pleased, as someone who understands the scope of his own success and knows there’s more to come.
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“I think you have to be pretty light-hearted getting into the type of restaurant with a sports bar and grill and having, you know, bikini-clad waiters,” said Guller, who is refreshingly upfront about his business. In 2012, revenue from the Bikinis empire totaled more than $20 million. Doug opened his first Bikinis five years ago in Austin, and now there are twelve in Texas, one in Oklahoma, and one in North Carolina. Teen-friendly titty bars, in general, are a boom industry. During the Great Recession (2008 to 2012), the Big Five—among them Dallas-based Twin Peaks and Bikinis—increased both the number of respective locations and total sales, according to the food industry research and consulting group, Technomics.
This expansion took place during a time when casual dining restaurants suffered big losses, and people warned of the “ death of the American chain restaurant .” Bennigans, Fuddruckers, Friendly’s—and numerous other chains with names suggesting mandatory joie de vivre—all suffered or shuttered.
When eaters finally did venture out again, all chains were competing for the limited market share. The gimmicky breastaurants upped their game, focusing on improved menus