(Note: This story appears in the January 2021 issue of ED Magazine)
Despite COVID-related obstacles, Déjà Vu/Hustler and Jerry Westlund partner on the brand new Hustler Club Nashville.
Ask anyone who has built one: constructing an adult nightclub from scratch is a significant challenge in regular times. A juggling act with contractors, equipment, supplies, and vendors, while simultaneously recruiting staff and entertainers and securing necessary licenses and permits.
Now, imagine trying to make all of that happen in the middle of a pandemic, with governmental agencies closed or operating sporadically, alongside short-staffed contractors and vendors with supply shortages, backed up on delivery times. Add a lack of available staff, in part due to PPP payments that for many were much higher than employers could pay them. Top it off with the fact that you’re not converting a bar or restaurant; you’re starting from an empty shell! Why undertake such a project during a pandemic? The lyrics, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” come to mind.
Industry powerhouses Déjà Vu/Hustler and Jerry Westlund of Pony Club fame joined forces to build a new Hustler Club in Nashville. Were they crazy to undertake such a project in the heat of COVID? Maybe crazy like a fox? ED (via Legal Correspondent Larry Kaplan) attended the Nashville Hustler Club’s recent grand opening and sat down with Jerry Westlund, Déjà Vu’s Director of Operations, Ryan Carlson, and its Regional Director, Mike Durham, to learn the why’s and how’s of the Hustler Nashville club.
Ryan Carlson oversaw the construction of the new Nashville Hustler club.
ED: Why build a club in the middle of COVID? What challenges have you run into, opening a new adult nightclub amid a pandemic?
CARLSON: We have bills to pay and people to employ. It’s that simple. The process was atypical, taking much longer than usual, with supply and labor shortages slowing construction, even more than expected. This club was brand-new, not from the ground up, but built from a shell. Everything here is new, plumbing, electrical, floor, roof, carpet, FFE, and everything else.
The opening was even stranger than the build. Finding staff committed to a very hands-on, people-oriented environment was very challenging. We didn’t have a good opening team together until just before the opening. Though we’re allowed to open, it’s under very restrictive rules. All Nashville businesses must close at 11:00 p.m., with capacities limited to under 50%. The 11 p.m. closure is particularly devastating, as Nashville is a late town, especially given that both clubs are BYOB. Déjà Vu Nashville has always had a substantial day shift, but it paled by comparison to nights.
ED: Tell me about Davidson County’s adult laws?
CARLSON: The laws used to be extremely unrestrictive. There were dozens and dozens of strip clubs, massage parlors, and adult bookstores. Broadway, near where the Grand Old Opry was, was surrounded by numerous adult stores.
About 20 years ago, due to an over-proliferation of adult businesses, Davidson County passed a comprehensive adult-use ordinance that significantly restricted the businesses. It included a three-foot distance requirement, costly entertainer licenses, fingerprinting, no nudity during private dances, and several other limitations.
Between the ordinance and the construction of the convention center in District 19, the only district zoned for adult, many available locations disappeared, thinning the herd of adult businesses. Despite the diminished marketplace, the demand remains. It’s been a good market for us. Since about 8-9 years ago, our Déjà Vu club and the Crazy Horse had been the only clubs. Now, with Hustler, we’ve opened Nashville’s last possible properly-zoned adult nightclub.
Nashville property values are skyrocketing, with property being developed at a staggering pace. Our restaurant group used to have corporate offices on the 30th floor of a Nashville high-rise. One day, looking out the window, I counted 37 construction cranes in all directions.
ED: After the laws shuttered most Nashville adult clubs, how hard was it to get a new location and license?
CARLSON: There was already an adult bookstore, Miranda’s, on this site, so this was one of the few grandfathered uses. Miranda’s moved next door to a location that’s not a part of the non-conforming use and is now non-adult, allowing the Hustler to occupy its previous space.
ED: Will this be the first Hustler club without on-premise liquor sales?
CARLSON: Yes, it’s unique for the brand. Guests can bring their own liquor; we’re renting them liquor lockers, so they’re all set for future visits.
ED: You’re partnering with Jerry Westlund on Hustler Nashville, and you’ve collaborated on several Déjà Vu affiliated locations together. What’s it like working with Jerry?
CARLSON: Jerry is more personality than can fit in one room. He’s an excellent business partner and an intelligent club operator who understands what guests and entertainers want. Anticipating the opportunity to work with Jerry on additional locations is exciting.
ED: Déjà Vu and Jerry are both strong, independent operators. When it came to running the Hustler, was it difficult for Jerry to relinquish operational control to Deja Vu?
CARLSON: No, Jerry is very much in control of his personality; he knows what he wants and what’s best for Hustler Nashville. It’s a great marriage. Jerry brought an excellent opportunity to the table. It’s exciting to see it through to fruition together.
Jerry Westlund found the Nashville Hustler Club location and collaborated with Déjà Vu to bring the three-year project to fruition.
ED: With the new Nashville Hustler, how many clubs is this for you?
WESTLUND: I now have 24 clubs on my own. Hustler Nashville represents an exciting opportunity to partner with Déjà Vu, the only major player in the Nashville market, on this club. Two strong, independent operators coming together creates a force that I think will dominate the marketplace. And we’re currently looking at partnering in a half-dozen other new ventures.
ED: Why Nashville?
WESTLUND: Nashville is one of the top four U.S. tourist destinations. It combines a strong hometown base with visitors from around the world. We’ll provide various experiences from both the Hustler side and the only year-round, full-time male review in the bachelorette party headquarters of the U.S. The synthesis of the Hustler and Déjà Vu Nashville clubs will provide an economic engine that, until now, has been sorely missed in this community.
ED: You live in Nashville. Were you eager to open a club in your home town?
WESTLUND: I was. I moved from Los Angeles two years ago to Nashville. For years I’ve looked at a variety of opportunities. This particular location took three years of working in the weeds to bring to fruition.
ED: You pretty much had your pick of club chains with which to partner. Why did you decide on Deja Vu?
WESTLUND: It would have been an honor to partner with any of the major operators, all of whom I consider friends. Déjà Vu was unique because they already control the Nashville market, and partnering with them made the project a much smoother transaction.
ED: Does partnering with Déjà Vu on other upcoming projects free you up for big-picture thinking, or are you still involved in a lot of the details?
WESTLUND: It enables me to focus on expanding my footprint aggressively, not only in Nashville but other communities where I operate, as well.
“Nashville is one of the top four U.S. tourist destinations. It combines a strong hometown base with visitors from around the world. We’ll provide various experiences from both the Hustler side and the only year-round, full-time male review in the bachelorette party headquarters of the U.S.” — Jerry Westlund
GM MIKE DURHAM
Mike Durham, who oversees the new Nashville Hustler Club, is a Regional Director for Déjà Vu. A 20-year Vu veteran, Durham started in 1999 as a member of the hospitality and security team at the original Nashville Déjà Vu on Demonbreun Street and now supervises eight clubs in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Iowa.
ED: How does BYOB work in Nashville?
DURHAM: We’re allowed guests and entertainers 18 and over. Those under 21 can’t drink. Those 21 and over can bring any alcoholic beverage they choose at no additional charge, as long as it has a top on it. There are two liquor stores within about a mile of the club.
ED: Both of your Nashville clubs, Hustler and Déjà Vu, are BYOB. What kind of clientele are you marketing to with Hustler, as opposed to Déjà Vu?
DURHAM: The Hustler is a far more upscale, service-oriented club with considerable attention to detail. Our Hustler entertainers are a little friendlier and slower-paced. Guests can sit down, have a drink, and converse with an entertainer. In contrast, Déjà Vu is a party, party, party, fast-paced destination with lots of action. You have Animal House on one side of town and Showgirls, mixed with Magic Mike on the other.
“Kings of hustler is going to be a little more of a throwback to Déjà Vu. It’s an all-nude male review: a non-stop party, high energy with constant motion. We have many guest-participation segments, from dollar dances to $5 cabaret table dances to hot seats to the one-of-a-kind Golden Boner attraction in the lobby, which bachelorettes like to get selfies with or ride.” — Mike durham
ED: Is attracting the more upscale, spontaneous customers challenging if all they can buy after 11 is beer?
DURHAM: It is. Many upscale guests want to sit down and have a bourbon or something else precisely to their taste. We’ve installed liquor lockers, which we’ll rent monthly, where guests can store liquor, so it’s ready to enjoy whenever they arrive.
ED: Do you offer packages of liquor lockers and VIP room time?
DURHAM: Yes, we offer all kinds of party packages. We have options to buy out rooms for the night. We’ll accommodate anything you want. I believe that’s critical because, in juice bars, people run out of two things, time or money.
For someone on a limited budget, they can still enjoy themselves because we have pricing for that. We also have all-night pricing for the guest on the other end of the spectrum.
ED: So you’re finding a way to attract and accommodate everybody?
DURHAM: We’ll provide anyone who walks through this door anything they could want, within the law. In a liquor club, 80% of the sales go into the bank account, 20% go to the vendor. With a juice bar, 20% of the sales go into the bank account, 80% go home with the entertainer. So we must find ways to keep our VIP rooms occupied.
ED: How hard has it been to get entertainers in a pandemic?
DURHAM: Existing entertainers haven’t been a problem. Starting new entertainers has been a big challenge. The office where entertainers get fingerprinting and background checks has been closed throughout the pandemic. Without fingerprints, you can’t get a permit; there are no COVID concessions for new entertainers. We’ve had to find a private fingerprinting company, which requires appointments, which can take weeks to get.
ED: What about licensing for the club?
DURHAM: The city was accommodating. We were familiar with their requirements after opening the new Déjà Vu club recently, and it went smoothly.
ED: What Nashville COVID restrictions are in place?
DURHAM: Basically, we have the same COVID rules here as all other businesses. Our entertainers must remain masked while on stage and sanitize the stage before and after each performance. And by law, all entertainers in Tennessee must maintain a three-foot distance from customers and be 18 inches off the ground when nude. Entertainers can be closer, but only when completely clothed.
ED: This building also houses Kings of Hustler, your male review club.
DURHAM: KOH is going to be a little more of a throwback to Déjà Vu. It’s an all-nude male review: a non-stop party, high energy with constant motion. We have many guest-participation segments, from dollar dances to $5 cabaret table dances to hot seats to the one-of-a-kind Golden Boner attraction in the lobby, which bachelorettes like to get selfies with or ride. We’ll be running Wednesday through Sunday nights.
A little-known fact is that Nashville is the bachelorette party capital of the world. They come here from everywhere and believe me; they come to party! The Nashville bachelorette phenomenon started around 2010-2011 when the TV show Nashville was shot on location here. With the people they cast and how they depicted the city, many destination bachelorette parties started coming, and it’s grown every year.
Larry Kaplan has, for 20 years, been the Legal Correspondent for ED Publications. Mr. Kaplan is a business broker in the sale and purchase of adult nightclubs and adult retail stores and the Executive Director of the ACE of Michigan adult nightclub state trade association. Contact Larry Kaplan at 313-815-3311 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.