Eric Langan, the Man with a Thousand Strippers

I once fell in love with a girl in Midtown. It wasn’t the kind of natural love I have for my mother, or the dopey love for an ex-girlfriend. It was the kind of love I feel when I’ve consumed seven vodka sodas, and a beautiful blonde is writhing in my lap wearing nothing but a thong, while Tricky’s “Christiansands” plays on the speakers. Then I get to talking with her. She tells in a lovable South African accent how she used to date Jake Gyllenhaal, and I wonder what time she gets off work. Thirty minutes later, she’s in the lap of an elderly Asian man with a softheaded smile, and I suddenly snap out of it — oh right, I’m a customer. Such is a typical night at Rick’s Cabaret & Steakhouse, a rising gentleman’s club in Manhattan that has toppled Scores as New York’s premiere place to see URL-free naked women.

Rick’s Cabaret has multiple locations across the country, and in charge of them all is a man named Eric Langan, whose passion for collecting sports cards allowed him to become king of his very own pole-dance palace. I spoke with the very content CEO about the perks of taking his company public, how to treat celebrities, and why you never try on a suit in the dark.

Let me ask you first, what’s your origin in this business? I’ve been to Rick’s a couple times, I’ve had a great time there. Well, when I was 19, I got married and divorced in the same year, so my friends started taking me to a little local club in Forth Worth, Texas, and we started hanging out there, playing pool and whatnot. And I started dating one of the entertainers, so when I was 21, I decided to sell my baseball card collection and open up my own club, and that’s how I got started in the business.

So your baseball collection was that strong? Oh yeah, it was worth a lot more than I sold it for, because I wanted the club so bad.

And was this Rick’s, or was this something else? No, it was called Sheba’s Lounge. I took over Rick’s in 1999.

Where did you get the skillset to become a club owner? Oh, I learned the hard way, I had no clue what I was doing when I opened my first club. I was 21 years old, I had money on a daily basis as far as you know — I had run my own sales business, but not really anything like this before. So you know, I just jumped in. With cold beer and some naked girls, it’s pretty easy to make money.

And what about school? I went to one semester of community college and basically started my own business, so I never finished, and never went back to school.

So you opened up the first club, then what happened? Then we opened a second club in Arlington, Texas, in 1991, and just kept expanding from there. I opened another club in East Texas. These were all just one-off locations. Then in 1994, I built the XTC Cabaret in Houston. That’s where we’re at currently.

Why do you call it a “cabaret”? Well, I guess in Texas, that’s just what many adult businesses are called — cabarets. Like in New York, you call them strip clubs; down here, if you said strip clubs, people know what it is, but they would immediately associate it with a very low-end club. All clubs are strips clubs in New York. In Texas, it’s an adult cabaret or a gentlemen’s club — those are the keywords.

So when you took over Rick’s, did you christen it a cabaret, or was it already a cabaret? No, no, Rick’s Cabaret was founded in 1983 actually. I was in the 9th grade.

So how did you come to get involved in Rick’s? In August of 1998, I merged my company with Rick’s.

And how many do you have now? We have 19. We’ve been expanding very rapidly since 2005.

Are they all the same scope and size as the New York club, or is New York one of the biggest? No, we have several different brands, actually. New York is one of our smaller clubs; we’re limited in New York to only 10,000 square feet, since clubs aren’t allowed to be any larger than that. But if you take our recent acquisitions, Las Vegas is 25,000 square feet, Philadelphia is 23,0000 square feet, Dallas is 25,000 square feet, and Miami is 47,000 square feet.

Are they all Rick’s? No. We have the Club Onyx brand, which caters to an upscale African American clientele. We have the XTC cabarets, which are a more blue collar brand, working guys; and then we have the Rick’s cabaret, which is our high-end white-collar.

How do you differentiate a white-collar club from a blue-collar club? In our white-collar clubs, you can get a $4 slice of pizza. That’s the difference. We have steak & fries for $10.99, and that’s a little grilled sirloin that’s not expensive. We don’t serve any alcohol, you bring your own. And the girls dance totally naked instead of just topless.

Is there a difference between the girls in different kinds of clubs? Yea, I mean, there’s definitely a little class difference. We’ll probably have a little rougher girls than we would at Rick’s.

What about contact laws? It varies from the region. We operate all our clubs within the limit of the law, so whatever the law allows, we allow, and then we try to keep it within those limits. If you go to Miami, it’s fully nude, full contact. In some states, there’s a no-touch rule, period. You cannot touch the entertainer while she’s in a state of nudity.

Are there problems with customers that go beyond that? Yeah, from time to time, but I mean you just gotta go up and talk to them; if you go up and insult a guy like that, he’s going to get defensive. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie Roadhouse, but that’s our philosophy, be nice. Be nice until there’s a reason not to be nice.

What’s the status for your new Vegas club? We just purchased it, and we’ll have our big grand opening the 23rd or the 25th of October.

So what was the club before you purchased it? It was Scores.

Are the days of Scores dominance in New York over? The papers sure seem to be painting it that way, that’s for sure.

What’d you think of Scores? The location on the west side was a little rough, but I think their biggest problem is just the way they treated their entertainers. You know, that’s the difference between Rick’s and other clubs — we try to treat everyone with respect, and we demand that all of our management do the same. If we get reports that those rules aren’t being followed, we’re on it immediately, correcting the situation. I think the difference is we look at entertainers as people; other clubs look as entertainers as product.

Would you say Vegas is the capital of strip clubs? It’s Sin City. I think it’s one of the most competitive markets in the country, for sure. I mean there’s a lot of entertainment out there — there are a lot of people out there looking for entertainment.

How do you guys differentiate yourselves from a major Vegas competitor like Spearmint Rhino? I think that our club facility is definitely better than theirs, because it’s a larger club. I think they’ll be a very formidable competitor, and there’s plenty of room in the market for two clubs, three clubs, five clubs, ten clubs. We don’t really worry about our competition that much in most markets. Really what we worry about is making sure that we’re doing the right thing. Because if you do the right thing, you make money, and you don’t have to worry.

So is this a full-time gig, or are you branching out into other ventures? No, this is all I do. This is it. This is all I’ve ever done.

After 20 years, how has it changed? I sold my baseball card collection for $42,000, and I used about $24,000 of it to open up a club.You know, we just spent $18.7 million to buy the Scores in Vegas, so it’s a little different than the old days. My first club was 1,600 square feet, and now I have dressing areas that exceed 5,000 square ft.

If you didn’t collect those cards, who knows where you’d be right now. I might’ve found another way to come up with the money, but that definitely made it a lot easier for me.

And what about the celebrity factor? I know Howard Stern had a big part in launching Scores, Bill Maher, John Stamos. How important is that in getting your club known? To me that’s really an internal success, when you can get celebrities that want to come to your business, especially when people want to come to our business and don’t care that people know they come to our business. There’s a lot I know, 30 or 40 more that you don’t know, because we don’t disclose those names, and we never would, because that’s part of the reason Rick’s is as successful as is it.

Do celebrities get special treatment? It depends on what they want. I think they just know to ask for it earlier, you know — so they’ll tell me, “I’ll be coming in with a party of eight guys, I don’t want to be bothered by people.” OK, no problem, we’ve got this room, we’ll put you guys in here, the host will bring some girls up, the girls you want will stay in the room, the ones you don’t, just let us know, we’ll take care of it. Why did you decide to go public? I went public because I wanted to help my management team own part of the company. It was my way of rewarding the guys that helped me make money. I was tired of departments telling me how to run my business, so with a public company, they’re my partners, and they own stock in the company — but when they’re unhappy, instead of calling me up and complaining, and trying to tell me how to do my job, they can sell their stock. I think a public company gives us credibility; the biggest thing they like to say is, you know, it’s the mob, or you’re cooking your books, or look how much money you spend and you’re not paying taxes. With a public company, we’re audited, the FFC reviews us, independent auditors come in and audit our financials. We can immediately eliminate all of that negative stigma.

Who’s Rick? I have no idea; when Rick’s was founded, I was 15 years old. I was just trying to find out what girls were, let alone naked ones.

Have you only dated entertainers since you started working in … this business? Since I was 19, not even a waitress. I haven’t even thrown a waitress in there.

So you’re not married? I am married.

Did you marry an entertainer? Oh yes. I’ve been married three times; my first wife was the only one who was not an entertainer. Then I started dating one, then I opened up my own clubs, and I was married for 11 years to my second wife. Then got divorced and married my current wife.

Are they workers in your clubs? My second wife was actually an entertainer in another club who was sent to our club to spy on us, and I never sent her back.

So pretty much every time you’ve been involved in a relationship, you’ve seen her naked before the relationship has actually gotten underway. Would you buy a suit in the dark?

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