The Founders Interview

A conversation with

John Gray

Founder of the Spearmint Rhino club chain

Interview and story by ED Founder Don Waitt

(NOTE: This story appears in the September 2023 issue of ED Magazine.)


 ohn Gray is a man of mystery.

John Gray, who? you might ask.


Here’s a clue.

The Spearmint Rhino club chain. 

Familiar with that?

Your answer should be a resounding yes.

Still not ringing a bell?

Well, John Gray is the man who founded the Spearmint Rhino club chain.

At this point you might say, ah-ha, okay, yes, now I see the connection.

You may see the connection but you probably still know little, if anything at all, about John Gray.

Do you know where John Gray was born and raised? No.

Do you know in what year and what city John Gray opened the very first Spearmint Rhino club? No.

Do you know where the incredibly unique—and also highly unusual—name Spearmint Rhino came from or why John Gray chose that name for his clubs? No.

Do you know where John Gray got the funding and experience to grow one club into a national chain of adult nightclubs? Excuse me, an international chain of adult nightclubs? No.

Do you know there are 30 clubs under the Spearmint Rhino umbrella today, and back in the day when the industry was booming, Spearmint Rhino had double that amount of clubs? No.

Do you know that John Gray’s Spearmint Rhino Consulting Worldwide owns the trademarks of Spearmint Rhino Gentlemen’s Clubs, Dames N’ Games Topless Sports Bars, California Girls Gentlemen’s Clubs, Blue Zebra Adult Cabaret and Dirty’s Topless Bar, and their corporate office is in Norco, California, located halfway between San Bernardino and Anaheim in Riverside County? No.

Do you know why John Gray as an entrepreneur and Spearmint Rhino as a brand are known by a larger percentage of the general population in England than in the United States? No.

Do you know that John Gray promoted a woman — yes, a woman — into the highest club executive position in the history of our industry, a woman who started as a bartender but who Gray knew had the chops to oversee a chain of nightclubs? No.

Can you tell me what John Gray looks like? No.

So, what you are saying is, you really don’t know much at all about John Gray, the founder of one of the largest, most successful and longest-running adult nightclub chains in our industry?

Of course you don’t.

But don’t feel bad.

Few people really do know the man behind the club chain. The wizard behind the curtain, if you will.

Because John Gray is a man of mystery.

The question is, is that by accident, or is that by design on John Gray’s part?

Hopefully, we will find out the answer to that question in this fifth installment of the ED Founders Interview Series.

*     *     *

WAITT: First off, where have you been? You were much more high profile in ED Magazine and at the Annual EXPO 10 years ago, but since then there have only been a few industry sightings of you.

GRAY: I’ve been on a hiatus. I’m not retired or anything of that nature. I’m a single father and I take it very seriously. I mean, I did two loads of laundry this morning.

I have made sure my children (a 24-year-old daughter and two 17-year-old twins, a boy and a girl) are well educated and are on a path that I didn’t do for myself. I have not been living vicariously through them, but instead saying, “Don’t do what I did. Do what I tell you to do.” They are about to go to college, so I’m back and I look forward to being out there more in the industry.

Also, I got into senior healthcare, doing senior homes. I’ve done other things. So it’s not like I’ve just been sitting here doing nothing.

WAITT: ED and the EXPO had been around for a few years and all of a sudden Spearmint Rhino showed up and made a big splash with multiple pages of advertising in the magazine and title sponsorships at the convention. Everybody was like, “What is Spearmint Rhino and who the hell is this John Gray guy?” You seem to have come out of nowhere. What made you decide to jump into the public eye of the industry at that point?

GRAY: I was never on the proverbial ego trip. That was never the utility. I was behind the timeline with some of the adult icons, be it film guys like Steve Hirsch or magazine guys like Hugh Hefner, and the club guys, primarily Harry Mohney and Michael Peter. Prior to adult clubs I had done nightclubs. I had done a construction company. I had done pizza parlors. I had done a hair and nail salon. I had done a tanning salon. But my main thrust was construction. Construction gave me money for the nightclubs.

Gray opened a number of regular nightclubs and restaurants but, after seeing how profitable adult clubs were by virtue of frequent visits to an adult club to visit an entertainer he was dating, he put his toe in the water and flipped one of his regular nightclubs into a stripclub.

“So I learned how to do business. I learned how to buy businesses. I was building a good track record.”

GRAY: With a regular nightclub, you’re busy three nights a week, but it’s not all night. It’s only four or five hours a night. And you have to pay the rent 24 hours a day. When we opened the adult club, it was interesting because except for the performances and the girls, it was essentially the same concept, a cousin to the nightclub. Another interesting comparison was the consistency. At a nightclub, Friday and Saturday are good, but you were always working hard to make Wednesday or Thursday busy, while the adult club was consistently busy. That was eye-opening.

We reached a point where we really didn’t want to acquire adult venues unless the underlying land could be acquired first. The growth came from renting at first and then owning thereafter. There were always three components to the business. One was the goodwill to be able to sell the business itself. The other was if you were operating it yourself, what the net income was off of that. And the third was the real property. That third one doesn’t exist if it’s a lease. A lease hampers your ability to sell because the proverbial landlord could be an obstacle.

So really the goal was to expand.

To expand, Gray needed financing. Which back then, and even now, banks were hesitant to do for adult businesses.

GRAY: We looked for other people’s money and at ways to raise money. In the ‘80s and the ‘90s it was difficult to get bank loans, no matter what your credibility was. I’ve always prided myself on having excellent business credit and more than excellent personal credit, but adult was a stigma and they weren’t going to loan straight-up for that. They wanted real property.

We tried soliciting private money for about a minute. The problem with private money is you spend an inordinate amount of your time fielding investor questions. Why this, why that? Why not this, why not that? From minority non-controlling owners. You’re dealing constantly with the guy who thinks he’s buying a country club membership and wants to come in and be big guy in the club and pat the girls on the butt. Or he’s got a brother-in-law who prints cocktail napkins and can he get a meeting? So you’re going through that. 

We figured out there were two ways to go back then. One was to go to where no club existed before. We hired former city planners and zoning attorneys who understood that arena. A lot of club operators didn’t realize that the jurisdictional aspect certainly wasn’t federal, and it wasn’t state, it was local. And at that time, if the ordinance wasn’t written correctly, the John Westons or the Roger Diamonds or the Luke Lirots (industry attorneys) could probably get us open. And we were successful at that, very successful.  

So we were doing the legal fights to gain locations because frankly we didn’t have the money to buy. But as we did increase in money, the options increased.

In answer to your question about our involvement with ED, between us making more money and us having to deal with legal and zoning issues, it became easier to just acquire Bob’s Booby Bar because Bob already had all the important entitlements. The club could be in need of refurbishment but Bob had all the important entitlements to operate as adult. The second thing that came with that is, when you convert Bob’s Booby Bar, you don’t necessarily create the public concern because you aren’t opening a new club where one didn’t exist before. So we started acquiring the Bob’s Booby Bars and that’s where ED came in. We never went to the convention for our own ego. I would volunteer to be a speaker at the show and, as you know, afterwards there would be 10 guys standing in the hallway in line wanting to talk to me.

WAITT: This industry is very competitive, but I’ve noticed that even competing club operators tend to mingle. You see them together at the EXPO, or at dinner, or on the ACE Board of Directors. You, on the other hand, seem to be more of a loner. No entourage, no crew of people. You’re not part of the clique. Why is that?

GRAY: I’m probably a little bit antisocial in the terms of hanging with the guys. I never was the guy sitting at the bar yelling at the Super Bowl on the TV, while my friends would sit there and bullshit with the guys next to them. I’ve never done the guys night out. And I agree with you; there’s a certain camaraderie that you see at the EXPO and ACE. But if you really look at it and tear it apart, those guys aren’t necessarily going fishing together. And even if they do, their discussion is going to segue into the club business. So it’s really conducting business, like a convention. Playing golf, whatever they’re doing, they are still doing business.

I do try to follow the case lead. You know, see what they’re doing, then do exactly what they do. If they have 10 TVs, you don’t want just nine; you want way more than 10. It’s interesting because some people don’t have the acumen to figure out, well if the other guy has five different types of whiskey, then I need to offer eight types or more.

WAITT: You are the second interviewee in this series (attorney Luke Lirot was the first) who thought about going into law enforcement. You earned an Administration of Justice college degree in 1977 and even started classes at the Rio Honda Police Academy while also starting law school. What made you change your mind about wearing a badge?

Don Waitt and John Gray

GRAY: Well, not so much wearing the badge. In terms of law school, it (quitting) was the stupidity of a young guy. If I had it to do over again, I would have followed through. 

I grew up as an only child with two parents, God rest their soul. They were divorced and they were both alcoholics. If I didn’t come home until three o’clock in the morning at 12 years old, nobody was going to come looking for me. Where I grew up, it was a crap neighborhood. Everybody that went to kindergarten together walked to school and graduated high school together.

It looked like I was not going to graduate from high school and that hit me very hard. The principal assisted me with taking extra classes and put me with a substitute teacher who was an EMT. They said I could get some college credits by doing the EMT college course while I was in high school. I drove an ambulance for a few weeks. I graduated from high school by the seat of my pants.

I went into a two-year junior college, and it seemed logical that I was going to become a police officer. But then I realized I was making more money in construction and the other business stuff I had going on at that time. After a year I dropped out. I wasn’t smart in doing that.

WAITT: Wasn’t your father involved in the construction business as well? Is that where you learned it?

GRAY: My Dad was a carpenter and a home remodeler. I grew up going to job sites with him. So construction came easy.

WAITT: What were your hobbies? Did you play any sports?

GRAY: No, I didn’t do any sports. I did race motorcycles; stadium motocross and desert racing. I was a Boy Scout for a period and I made it to Life Rank. I didn’t finish the Eagle Rank. I had gown long hair and the girls at 16 hit pretty hard. 

Mainly I worked. I started mowing lawns. There was a housing boom so, with my construction acumen, I went from mowing lawns to doing patio pavers and remodeling. And very quickly I went into public work construction where you didn’t have to chase your money and you didn’t have to kiss owners’ asses.

At that time, my Dad, who was not a learned guy, gave me some good advice. He said that people had gotten rich selling ice cubes and people had also gone bust selling ice cubes. So I learned how to do business. I learned how to buy businesses. I learned how to get people to carry a note. I was building a good track record.

WAITT: At one point, didn’t you also dabble in the phone sex business, which for some reason landed you on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson?

GRAY: Yes. I did phone sex way before the adult clubs or even the nightclubs. I had a dozen girls working in booths. My Dad helped me build out of an industrial center, about 8,000 feet. It was all cubicles and booths and girls were in there talking. It was before the 866 sex line thing. It took off. We were doing about 30 grand a month and that was all the money in the world back then. And I got it in my head that one of the TV shows would pick me up. So I had a bunch of girls there kiss the envelopes with lipstick, and I wrote to Carson. 

WAITT: In the mid-1980s, a friend who was a nightclub manager talked you into building and opening a nightclub in Claremont, California, which you called the Peppermint Elephant Restaurant. 

GRAY: Back then, there was a nightclub in Southern California called The Red Onion, a very well known nightclub, a West Coast version of Studio 54. One of the managers and I became friends and we said, we can do this, why don’t we open one? So we did, and that’s where the Claremont club came from. I built the club and he ran it. I was never a nighttime guy. I wasn’t going to go to bed at three or four o’clock in the morning. And he did a good job running it. We kept opening more clubs and he ran them well. 

WAITT: Where did the name Peppermint Elephant come from?

GRAY: We agonized over a name for a day or two. I wasn’t on an ego trip so we weren’t going to call it Johnny’s Restaurant. And we weren’t going to call it West Coast Adult Girls. So we just came up with a couple of names that would go together. And that was about it.

But you know, if you look at all of these different club names of the big guys, what the hell difference does it make? I have the theory that we could have called it the Brass Monkey and made it successful. You and I could go out and open a club. Call it whatever we want. Call it the Pink Parrot or something like that. The name resonates with the business if you put enough money in the marketing.

WAITT: More Peppermint Elephant Restaurants followed. But when you opened the next club in Upland, California you called it Spearmint Rhino. Like the others, it was not an adult club. Why the name switch?

GRAY: The guy from the Peppermint Elephant Restaurants and I opened up a beach bar and grill together, and then we parted without a do-not-compete. So I opened another nightclub which I called Spearmint Rhino. The Spearmint Rhino name was a play off the Peppermint Elephant name. It did not open as a girly bar. It was a straight-up nightclub for close to three years. 

Randy Welty, who owned the Tropical Lei, had rented our facility to have his Christmas party because he was an adult juice bar and we were a nightclub with liquor and food. I saw his club and thought, well, this is an interesting concept. I started dating a dancer who worked for him; we had a four-year relationship. And what I didn’t pick up from seeing his business, I learned from her because she was a good dancer making a lot of money in a very hard club. That gave me all the pieces of the puzzle to say, well, I’m going to try this. And that’s what I did (in 1991 Spearmint Rhino in Upland became a gentlemen’s club). 

A green light had gone off. And the biggest green light was the consistency of an adult club compared to a regular nightclub. What other business could do a 100 grand a week and go down to 70 grand a week and still make a profit? Another plus was a guy couldn’t open down the street to compete with us because of the zoning. That really works in our favor because we think more like an attorney than a club operator most of the time.

It was just easy and it was forgiving. If I had only done restaurants, I am the first to say I would’ve probably failed because I’m more aloof and delegatory than hands-on. You serve a bad steak, the customer is gone. You kick somebody out of your strip club, they’re back the next night. Not that you want to condone bad management, but it is forgiving.

In one ED article, Gray said, “I would go into her place of business and see the dollars she made and what she ‘paid the club.’ I saw the minimum tenant improvements of her club, figured the approximate gross of her club and appreciated the profit on dollar earned and trade consistency of her small-style club. I balanced all the ideological pros and cons to entering the adult business arena, and obviously I stepped in. The rest, as they say, is history. We were off and running.”

WAITT: That timeline begs the question of, had you stuck with the name Peppermint Elephant for the Upland location and not called it Spearmint Rhino, does that mean your club chain would have been the Peppermint Elephant chain?

GRAY: That’s just not how history played out, right? I eventually sold all the Peppermint Elephants because I got bored very quickly.

WAITT: Without a doubt, you came up with one of the most unique names for a stripclub — Spearmint Rhino — in the history of this business. And it wasn’t for just one club; it ended up being for an entire chain of Spearmint Rhino clubs. There are many different explanations of the origin of the Spearmint Rhino name. Can you set the record straight?

GRAY: People used to think it had to do with a Rhino horn being an aphrodisiac. Nope. Zero. There is absolutely nothing behind the name. But I have always liked names that roll, like Coyote Ugly or Sexy Fish. We were looking for something that could be animated in a logo. And we were concerned about the number of letters in the name because the more letters, the more expensive the club sign is.

WAITT: The Spearmint Rhino brand is associated with high-end, fancy clubs. Was that always your intention?

“Nope. Zero. There is absolutely nothing behind the name Spearmint Rhino.”                

GRAY: I’ve always been kind of a frustrated interior designer. If I could do anything else as a passion, I’d be a woman’s fashion designer or interior designer. When I was a kid and went to Disneyland and later to places in Vegas, I wasn’t taking pictures of Mickey Mouse. I was taking pictures of the crown molding and the casing around the doors.

In hospitality and in retail, I think there’s a wow factor. We used to have DJs and they’d wear their own clothes. Then I thought, what if I have a banker or somebody like that come in? Why not have the DJ put on a coat and tie? It doesn’t cost me anything. And by the way, button the top button and tighten the tie because you are what you appear to be and it’s the impression you make. 

Michael Peters, he preceded me on this, and he did it right. I remember going into his Fort Lauderdale club and he’s got a stainless steel DJ booth. He’s got a drink rail that’s stainless steel all the way down. Quality materials lasted longer. Michael has an eye for the impression aspect of it. 

The secret is to build the dressing room as nice as the club. Do both in tandem. Validate the dancers. Because if you have pretty dancers, it’s a formula for success. How do you attract dancers from the other clubs? It’s validating them and making them feel good so they are dancing in a place that doesn’t smell and their feet don’t stick to the carpet.

Some club operators don’t spend as much time on the architecture as they should. I was talking to an architectural firm in Vegas recently and said, “Look, I want to step it up. Forget that I’m adult. You guys need to take us and the architecture and the interior design, the soft materials, etc. and make it to look like the Vegas nightclubs, like a Wynn nightclub.”

WAITT: Some club operators argue that less formal, blue-collar clubs can generate as much, if not more, profit than the fancier clubs. Do you agree?

GRAY: Yes and no. Like everything else, it’s the timeline. Twenty years ago if you had a lower-level decor club with guys wearing t-shirts or polos at the front door, the reality was, the lesser club brought a lesser customer, which meant lesser money, which meant lesser dancer quality. 

Back in the 1950s we had burlesque. I would go into a club and the MC would be wearing a maroon jacket with wide velvet lapels of crushed velvet. And sitting next to him on a backless bar stool was a naked woman with an acoustic guitar playing a song. It went from that to stage performances, to chair dances, to table dances, to lap dances, to friction dances, to VIP room dances, to very private dances. And that kept manifesting itself to where I think the business has shot itself in the foot. Fast forward to today, and there are no dances out on the floor, no tipping at the stage. It’s all VIP. Girls can set their own prices. The dancers are feeling entitled. 

The price has gone up to the point where the blue collar guy can’t afford it. He doesn’t feel like he is getting his money’s worth and it’s a turnoff for him to go back a couple of times a week. So I frown upon that very much.

EXPO panelist

I like a place where you and I can talk. I can yell across a bar, “Hey Don, over here.” I’ve taken two women into Baby Dolls (in Dallas) and they turn their nose up at the buffet. Fifteen minutes later, they’re at the buffet. The DJ is as old as I am, and he’s playing Aerosmith.

I love Harry Mohney. He’s an icon in our industry. I remember when I was a kid I would go into one of his clubs and he would have the rooms down the side, but you could still see the performance on stage. So when I first started building clubs—City of Industry was the first proper club I built—you had the illusion of privacy, but I made it so that when you’re sitting in a private booth, you can still see the stage. I’ve been in many clubs where you walk down the hallway and it’s ultra-private, but it’s also dead. 

We’re selling a fantasy. We don’t want sex for money. It’s not lawful in the United States and it’s going to get the club owner in trouble. And at the end of the day, you don’t get the best girls with it.

It’s gotten too expensive. I’m not going to spend a hundred dollars for a dance. I just want to have a drink with you. And if a girl comes over, I want her to sit and talk to us, not just ask, do you want to dance? And then give me a dirty look and keep walking on.

WAITT: Spearmint Rhino clubs are also known for always having a high percentage of beautiful entertainers. How do you make sure those standards are kept up?

GRAY: Well, you know, the nines and tens are perception. I was standing with a banker 20 years ago and it was in City of Industry, and he says, “Wow, look at that girl over there.” There were a couple good-looking girls in the group, and I assumed it was one of them, and I said, “Why don’t you go talk to her?” It wasn’t her. It was the least attractive of the girls, a pretty, but heavy-set girl. But that’s what he fancied. 

A lot of people who open a club — and you’ve seen this time and time again — they do everything they can to get the most number of dancers, be it 20 or 220. But the customers don’t come quick enough, so then the girls don’t want to be there. So they advertise their asses off and the guys come, but then they don’t have the girls. 

WAITT: What about today’s entertainers?

GRAY: There are problems. Things like OnlyFans. It is unfortunate because the girls can become conditioned to think that their conduct is acceptable, where before it wasn’t. Back in the day, the bikini girl wouldn’t go to the topless club. God forbid. The girl at the topless club wouldn’t go to the nude club. God forbid. The girl at the nude club wouldn’t want to be seen by a guy outside the club. God forbid. It’s changed. 

WAITT: If you go back to the late 1980s and early 1990s when the adult nightclub industry was really taking off and titty bars were becoming gentlemen’s clubs, most of the action seemed to be in Florida, Texas, Georgia and the Northeast. You, however, were conquering California and at one point had more than 15 clubs in the Golden State. Why did you decide to concentrate on that market?

GRAY: Span of control and chain of command. If I could open five miles down the street, then why not, rather than 25 miles down the street to where it was a new market of guys that couldn’t necessarily drive to the first club or the second club. And why the hell open a club as far away as Tennessee?

Eventually Gray did expand into other states, opening Spearmint Rhino locations in Texas, New York, Nevada, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Iowa, Idaho, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Arizona, Michigan and Florida.

WAITT: You have other adult nightclub brands including Dames N’ Games, Blue Zebra and California Girls? Why brand additional club names when Spearmint Rhino is such a strong brand?

GRAY: They were too close to one of our existing clubs.

WAITT: What was the largest number of clubs you had open in the US at one time?

GRAY: I don’t know. I can’t tell you how many I had. I have clubs I have never been in. It’s been 26 years since I went to our club in Boise, Idaho.

WAITT: You now have 30 or more clubs under the Spearmint Rhino umbrella. Does the corporation own any of those clubs, or are they all partnerships?

GRAY: I typically don’t disclose the different ownerships. But there’s a story behind every single club. So when I land in a city, say Tennessee, and I deal with Bob’s Booby Bar, whatever you want to call it, I can’t tell you what the deal is going to look like. If there are 30 clubs in that market, there are 30 different deal manifestations. 

Let’s say Bob wants a million dollars for his club. But he’s packing a paper bag of cash home every once in a while. He’s like, well, I want this. And I’m like, well, you can’t justify it in the numbers, the tax returns, etc. So I go down the street to Sam’s place and we come to an arrangement that we used to call a dollar deal. We’ll give you a dollar for 51 percent. We will loan the club all of the money needed to build it into a Spearmint Rhino showpiece. Because we believe 49 percent of a Spearmint Rhino is worth more than 100 percent of what you now have.

Some of the guys will say, well, if I’m selling 51 percent, I want $510,000. Some say that and we walk away. We’ve made a lot of guys well off and never screwed anybody around on that minority position.

But it comes with some challenges. Because I have to tell Bob: “I can’t do anything different, Bob, unless I do something different.” But everything you do different, you’re basically telling Bob, you made an error. He’s not free pouring, so we’re going to free pour or vice versa. So he’s scrunching his eyes as you’re telling him we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that. He feels dumb because he didn’t do this, and he didn’t do that.

But my ultimate goal is to make Bob money and we have a program to turn his club around which will do that.

WAITT: So for any club owners reading this article, you’re open to either scenario: an outright purchase or a partnership? You’ll entertain anything based upon your inspection of the property?

GRAY: Sure, all things are open. We are cautious about who we do business with. But at the end of the day, we want to run it. We don’t want to argue about it. We give proper buyout agreements. There is no strong-arming anybody.

Most of the guys that we go for historically have been the guys who are in a world of hurt. They have management that is old or is stealing them blind. Or they don’t have any management at all. Some guys have a divorce going on. A lot of times they have operational issues, revocation actions, liquor citations, tax liens, existing litigation, partner litigation, etc. We come to the table and just start pounding away at it.

More than once I’ve walked into a club and it’s the husband and wife owners painting the bathroom on a closed day. And I’m like, this is not going to solve your problem.

We have a great track record with regards to doing what we say we were gonna do and a great success rate. We don’t have to present financials. They know that we were able not only to acquire their club, but to do what we are saying and to turn it around and make a difference.

We are respectful, but we also say, we’re not here just to see you. We’re looking at all the clubs. In other words, if we go to Tennessee, because Bob calls us from the ED appearance, we’re not just going to go to Bob’s. We’re going to start by going to the Number One club because presumably the Number One club is doing the best that can be done. And then we’ll tell Bob, “Look, with respect, we want to acquire your club, but it’s now or never because if we don’t acquire yours, we’re gonna acquire Sam’s down the street and then we’re competition. And you know what that means.” 

“It comes with challenges: I have to tell Bob, I can’t do anything different, Bob, unless I do something different.”

When you’re able to do the deals, you can do a deal in a week where it can take you three years to separate with a bad partner. For every one good deal—the typical guy that’s got north of 10 clubs—one’s carrying the additional four. And if he could do an accrual base analysis, he may not be making the money that he thinks full circle. That brings you back to real property. If the real property’s involved, you’re still making money, even though you don’t realize it. It’s an anomaly of not being on the income statement, but you’re still there three years later.

WAITT: Several other club chains franchise their name. One of the complaints I’ve heard over the years from operators who do a franchise deal is that, despite all the upfront promises, once the smoke clears, all they really get is the name and very little support.  

GRAY: The problem inherently with franchises is they don’t work in the adult arena. The franchiser wants the membership money, but they’re not giving the guy anything. And for a franchiser, it’s not necessarily a good thing since many adult club owners typically do what they want to do. So it hurts the name. 

At McDonald’s, there’s consistency. You get a Big Mac in California or in New York or in Florida, it’s going to be the same thing. And the strip clubs? No. You go into one franchise club, it’s got green carpet. You go in another one, it’s got red carpet. One’s $10 at the door, the other one’s $25 at the door. What the hell? 

John Gray, at least for me, seemed to appear out of nowhere about 25 or so years ago. 

We had been listing the Spearmint Rhino clubs, most of which at that time were only in California, in the Annual Exotic Dancer Club Directory. But we had not been writing about the clubs in the ED Club Bulletin. And Spearmint Rhino club personnel had not been attending the Annual Gentlemen’s Club EXPO. 

Because Gray’s operation was West Coast-based and the ED offices were on the opposite coast in Florida, we just weren’t that familiar with what was happening in California. But then, all of a sudden, seemingly out of the blue, John Gray was standing at the registration desk at one of the EXPOs. In front of me was a fit, compact and tanned man, immaculately dressed in an expensive suit and tie. 

He looked like an investment banker. 

But with the goatee a hip investment banker.

He stuck out his hand and introduced himself, “Hi, I’m John Gray.” 

At the club

Then he said something to the effect of, “I like what you are doing here and Spearmint Rhino wants to be part of it. A big part of it.” He put a lot of emphasis on the second part.

For the next 20 years, not a single issue of ED, be it the annual Club Directory or the bimonthly ED Magazine, came out without having major Spearmint Rhino advertising spreads in it. And Spearmint Rhino signed on to be a Title Sponsor at every Annual EXPO. I remember Gray pulled me aside after one of the first EXPOs he sponsored and said, “More and bigger. Next year I want more and bigger Spearmint Rhino signs and banners. I want to flood the show.”

Gray was also an active participant as a panel speaker at the EXPO, gave the Keynote Address one year and was inducted into the ED Hall of Fame.

And then, just as mysteriously as he had appeared, John Gray seemed to disappear. 

Granted, Spearmint Rhino was still a presence in the magazine and at the EXPO, but the face of the company then became Spearmint Rhino President and Chief Operating Officer Kathy Vercher. She and key Spearmint Rhino staffers sat on EXPO panels and the chain’s GMs came to the show.

But no John Gray.

There was one sighting, though.

We did the EXPO in 2016 in New Orleans and I was sitting behind the registration desk again when John Gray walked up. No one on the ED staff knew he was coming; he had not pre-registered. The fact that the California-based Gray would take time to come all the way to New Orleans was a huge surprise. I only had a minute or two to catch up with Gray before a porn star turned feature entertainer pushed between us, plopped into my lap, which was embarrassing, and badgered me for some free EXPO badges. By the time I had extricated her from my lap, John Gray was gone. 

I was very upset. It was like getting the chance to talk one-on-one with Elon Musk or Steve Jobs and then you’re interrupted by a waiter. 

WAITT: In keeping with the man of mystery theme, tell us a little about your personal life. You were born on Feb. 15 1957, which makes you 66, correct?

GRAY: Yes.

WAITT: I read you were born in Whittier, California and that you were an only child?

GRAY: Yes. I say this with respect to my deceased parents, but as I mentioned, they were both alcoholics. My Dad would down a fifth of Jim Beam a night and my Mom would drink all night at the bar. The bar would call me at the end of the night at 2 am to come get my Mom when I was 13 years old. They divorced so it was my Mom and me. They say you are either like them or you’re not. I don’t have an aversion to drinking, but I don’t participate in it. I have no propensity to be addicted to alcohol, drugs or anything of that nature.

But equally, I had no moral upbringing. Not only from right or wrong, but whether to be home at a certain hour, do your homework or anything. So I was on my own. 

Most of my peers made nothing out of themselves. It’s interesting because the A-student became the drug dealer and the D-student became the success, right? And the ugly girl became the pretty girl. And the girl, who I thought didn’t like me, said at our 10-year reunion, that she had always had a crush on me. I learned to believe nothing you hear and half of what you see.

I was always wired. I don’t believe Picasso learns how to paint from college classes. I think college teaches a person how to be Number Two and rationalize to be a bean counter and not be Number One. Having the ability to be an entrepreneur, I think it’s a gift that either you have it or you don’t. If you don’t have it, forget trying to get it. It comes naturally or it doesn’t. So to that end, I was wired. But I was always regretful that I didn’t have the proper upbringing to allow me the trajectory to go into something different and bigger, like medicine or politics.

WAITT: The irony is that if you had that trajectory, you might not be as successful as you are now.

GRAY: Well, you have to define success. And I don’t cast aspersions on anybody in our business. But it is the case that our society doesn’t reward it (adult business entrepreneurship) as much as other endeavors.

I undoubtedly would have gone into politics because that interests me. It is a very interesting game and a neat way to give back. But you can’t do that realistically once you’re immersed in our industry. It does have that tar-sticking effect.

I have always struggled with the morality, not in terms of right or wrong, but the public perception of adult. So the way that I rationalized the question of am I doing right or wrong? is that adult is lawful.

I tell people that if I had to do it over again, I would have been the proverbial surgeon or the equivalent. Although I might have ended up as frustrated as some of my friends who are surgeons because they’re trapped money-wise. When I tell them, “I wish I would’ve gone your route,” they look at me and say, “We wish we would’ve gone your route and not gone ours.”

“Being an entrepreneur, I think It’s a gift that either you have it or you don’t. To that end, I was wired.”

Gray is the first in the ED Founders Interview Series that I did a phone interview with rather than an in-person interview like the previous four interviews. It’s 100 percent my fault; I was knocked out of commission with a second bout of Covid that turned into a brief hospital stay. By the time I was out and back to being healthy, the deadline for this issue, which is handed out at EXPO 2023, was right around the corner. Gray didn’t miss a beat and we spent a solid three hours on the phone.

WAITT: How many times have you been married and are you married now? I know you were married in the 1990s to Dyanna Lauren, a famous adult movie actress and Penthouse Pet, who was inducted into the AVN Hall of Fame.

GRAY: I have been married just once, to Dyanna. I seem to have long-term relationships. I’m not a player; I’m a relationship guy. But I am plagued by dating girls who are dancers or look like they’re dancers. I never really understood it. I have confidence, so I have ability with women. So I have dated the really good-looking girls and that’s come with some occasional chaos.

I have three children. My oldest daughter just turned 25. She is an attorney and a prosecutor. I had her when I was 40 and her mother was 18. She was a waitress in one of the clubs. We were together for about a year and a half. She was very young and couldn’t handle it, and we agreed I would raise our daughter alone. To this day, her mother comes by for holidays and birthdays.

I was in England working on opening clubs there and I called Dyanna (Lauren) and said, “If I send you a ticket, will you come over?” Di was older at the time than the girls that I had been dating, and she was more worldly. She came over to England and she essentially never left. She became a partner very quickly. It was classic, you know, romantically.

Gray and Lauren were married and tried unsuccessfully to have children. Eventually they went the surrogate route and had twins, a boy and a girl. “They’ve got their heads together and they’re good kids,” says Gray.

WAITT: If any of your children wanted to follow you into the adult nightclub business, would you encourage or discourage it?

GRAY: I would discourage it. Not because of the subject matter, and I’ve told them that. Instead, it’s because they’re not entrepreneurs. They’re not wired for that.

I’ve seen people time and again try to push their children to follow in their shoes. I’ve seen mainstream guys do it that I know very well, and either the kid excels and takes over the father’s business or it really screws him up because he’s dogged by the fact he can’t live up to expectations. 

I don’t want that for my kids. But I do want them to do whatever their passion is and that’s what I support.

WAITT: You have a house in Newport Beach, California, which make sense since you currently have 14 clubs in that state, along with the Spearmint Rhino corporate office. But you also have a home in Dallas. Why is that? You don’t seem like a Texas kind of guy.

GRAY: The taxes. Texas is one of seven states that doesn’t have income tax. Also, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older, but I’m tired of California. I haven’t bought into the rhetoric there for the last 20 years. Los Angeles is close to the brink, in my humble opinion, of losing it to the point where it’s going to be hard to recover. It’s going to be Detroit real quick.

I bought a nice house in Dallas. I fixed it up, and I doubled its value. I’m building in Vegas from the ground up now. I have a healthy portfolio of commercial and residential property that has nothing to do with adult.

WAITT: I asked Kathy Vercher for help on details about your life outside the adult nightclub business. She says you really don’t have any hobbies, and instead are a dedicated father who enjoys spending time with his children. How important is family to you?

Kathy Vercher and John Gray

GRAY: That’s a delicate question. When I got involved in the schools, and saw the traditional couples, it was a sad commentary that a lot of them aren’t really happy. I’m sitting at the table, you know, four couples there. I’m by myself, the kids are carving pumpkins. The parents are doing wine and cheese. And I feel the woman, who’s married to a man I am friends with, running her foot up my pant leg. So what appears in the outside world isn’t always the truth, right?

Fast forward to high school turning into college, and I’m taken back by how many parents are looking forward to their kid going off to college. I don’t want mine to go, but conversely, I can’t say, oh, poor me, what am I going to do? But there’s no doubt my life is going to change.

“When I was looking for money to buy clubs, I knew nobody would be offended by a person in a suit.”

WAITT: Kathy Vercher did mention one irritating thing about you. “Everything he does, he is extremely good at,” she said. “It’s aggravating. We started a company bowling league and he bowled a 300. We rode dirt bikes for a company event and he was doing wheelies from the get-go. Besides being wickedly smart, he’s wickedly talented at everything he does.” Is that your competitive streak or are you just naturally athletic?

GRAY: Well, first of all, thanks to Kathy, and I’m humbled by her comments and probably turning red here. I’ve always been athletic.

WAITT: You are always well-dressed and in shape. You are the only club owner I know who has had professional modeling head-shots done. Obviously, you take pride in your personal appearance. Has that always been the case?

GRAY: Yes and no. You mention head-shots; aren’t filters a phenomenal thing now? What’s funny to me is that girls think they actually look like that. When I look in the mirror now I see something different than of course what I used to be. So when somebody takes a picture of me, it’s like, holy shit. You realize how old you’re getting, or how heavy you are, or how gray your hair is. 

I’ve tried to embrace the changes in life. I remember when I was about 40 asking a dancer out and she looked at me and said, “Shouldn’t you date somebody your own age?” It was an epiphany. And it fucked the rest of my afternoon.

At the ED Award Show

WAITT: But the suits and that projection of you as a business professional, that had to be intentional?

GRAY: Sure. My Dad came into a very small amount of money from an inheritance and he bought a hot dog stand at Venice Beach. And he had a cook with very long hair. And at 10 years old—and I’m not patting myself on the back, just the reality — I said, “Dad, you shouldn’t hire a cook with long hair.” And he said, “Well, not everybody’s offended by long hair.” And I said, “Yeah, but nobody’s offended by a cook with short hair.” 

So fast forward to when I was looking for money to buy and build clubs, I knew nobody would be offended by a person in a suit.

WAITT: You are responsible for advancing a woman to the highest executive position in the history of our industry. While you are CEO and Chairman of Spearmint Rhino Worldwide, Kathy Vercher is the President and Chief Operating Office, overseeing the daily operation of more than 30 clubs. Vercher started at Spearmint Rhino as a bartender at age 23, became the company’s first female manager, then the company’s first female regional manager, and in 2001 she became President and COO, at the age of just 31. What did you see in her at the early stage that told you she had such management potential?

GRAY: Kathy could do anything that she wanted to do. She’s smart and does very, very well. What she actually does is kind of a surrogate for me. Kathy came from outside our industry. She had a moral fiber in her that I didn’t find in other people, male or female, from most walks of life. 

I teach my kids, what do you do if you find $5 at Walmart? You give it to the clerk. Human nature is to keep the $5 because you think the guy who lost it is already gone, or the clerk is going to keep it themselves. That’s a slippery slope. The deal is, do what ought to be done. It’s $5 on the floor. It’s not yours. So give it to the clerk. The rest is just rationalizing. 

Kathy has an excellent sense of right or wrong without any rationalizing. She does quote, unquote what ought to be done. Which is important to me when you’re as aloof and as removed as I am. From day one, I built this company to survive me both in terms of successorship and to get to a point where I am not as integral on the day to day. Not because I wanted to lay on the beach; it was just a delegation.

John Weston (a noted First Amendment attorney who has since passed away) was one of my mentors. He helped me get my moral compass straight. If I told him, “I just mailed your check,” he would say, “John, did you really mail the check or is it actually sitting on your desk and you plan to put it in the mail?” And I would say, “You are right. It is on my desk. I will go and put it in the mail now.” And that helped when I took over people’s clubs. On my payments to partners, never am I a day late or a dollar short. I found that doing what ought to be done works. 

A last testament to Weston. We were spending a weekend with Bob Guccione (of Penthouse fame) at his house in New York. Weston and I were sitting at a strip club out there — I don’t remember which one — and I said, “Man, this business is full of flakes.” And he turned to me and said in true Weston style, “Yes, John. But we need not be flakes.”

WAITT: You were inducted into the ED Hall of Fame in 2014 and Kathy Vercher was inducted in 2018. During Vercher’s acceptance speech, she said when she learned she was going to receive the award that she called and asked you for advice on her speech. She says you told her, “Just don’t fuck it up.” Is it safe to say you two have a blunt, cut-to-the-chase way of communicating?

It’s not just Kathy Vercher. Our top controller is a woman. Our in-house senior legal counsel is a woman.”

GRAY: Sure. I do everything in the Socratic method. If an issue comes to bear and it is appropriate for me to get involved in the question that was poised, I get a double benefit, not simply by answering the question and having the directive carried out, but also through saying, what is it that you would do?

With Kathy, it’s always, what would you do if my plane crashed last night? And forcing her into that learning actually gave me security.

WAITT: The fact that a bartender could become President of a major club chain in itself is a great human interest story. But for that person to be a woman in a predominately male-managed industry makes it even more powerful. Why do you think more adult nightclubs don’t have women in top executive positions?

GRAY: I think they’re shortsighted. But, in their defense, they can’t draw from the dancer pool. They can’t compete with dancer money. Even if the dancer only works one day a week and makes a thousand bucks, if she’s going to work as a manager and work 40 hours a week, she expects $5,000 a week. It’s a fallacy because she doesn’t make $5,000 a week, but she still thinks she’s entitled to $5,000 a week. 

There is no labor pool for our industry, as if we were computer programmers, for managers.

Regarding women in key positions at Spearmint Rhino, it’s not just Kathy. Our top controller is a woman. Our in-house senior legal counsel is a woman. I think there are some benefits to that. They ostensibly are not as influenced as easily as the guys are by the women.

WAITT: Jim St. John, one of the most well known executives in the business, is now on the Spearmint Rhino team after many years with Deja Vu and Hustler. What does St. John bring to the table for your organization?

GRAY: Well, a word goes out also to Harry Mohney. Because I always appreciated Harry and Jim. I was uncomfortable at first out of the loyalty to Harry. Harry and I have never drank together or anything of that nature. We don’t know each other per se, but I appreciate him.

Jim knows everybody that we didn’t know. So to the extent that there is a club that becomes available, he has knowledge of who that is, what their problems are and do we really want it? He speaks volumes. And Kathy’s job is largely administrative. She’s not going to go to Pittsburgh, or wherever, and sit there with the club owner at 2 am. And, you know, as bad as it sounds, there might be an element almost in reverse that it’s a boys club.

So Jim St. John’s reputation precedes him. If he sits with that owner in Pittsburgh at two in the morning, they are cut from the same cloth enough to where Jim can say, “Look, George, this is what we’re going to do. We’re not crazy. We got our shit together.” I appreciate what he brings to the table in terms of worldly knowledge, clearly.

At EXPO 1999

WAITT: Alan Chang, a longtime Spearmint Rhino executive, left to start his own chain of clubs, The Peppermint Hippo, several years back. How do you feel about that?

GRAY: What’s the saying, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? I would not have done it (used the name Peppermint Hippo) for that simple reason. People I meet think it’s one of our clubs. So just as a matter of pride, I wouldn’t have done that. I think they would’ve been better off coming up with a different name. But there’s no resentment from us or towards them. I wish them well.

WAITT: After expanding out of California into other states, you took your expansion plans even farther afield in 2003 opening Spearmint Rhino clubs in Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand and even Russia. What made you decide to go abroad? 

John Gray and John Weston went to London to look at buying a club which was eventually bought by Hustler. But it whet Gray’s appetite for the market, and soon he was the biggest player in the burgeoning UK stripclub market.

GRAY: Once I did my first club in England, I started buying property over there. I found that England was sophisticated, spoke our language, but was a good 20 years behind us in adult night club operations. I found peculiarities in their traditions and how slow they moved in certain ways. And I liked the banking business there.

It was fun and it really honed my business skills to open clubs in foreign lands. But as a businessman you saw it different than as a tourist. What really became fun is when I started making friends. It had nothing to do with the business. The attorney has a birthday and he’s an hour outside of the city and you go to his house and sit there and it’s like a scene out of the movie, Notting Hill.

Ultimately, countries such as Russia and Czech Republic, they became very difficult to deal with the language barrier when it came to licensing and governmental authorities. In those markets, I couldn’t do my swagger thing. So, we stuck with the clubs in with Canada and Australia and England. 

Which in and of themselves are very different than the U.S. What’s very interesting is in England they could say no to adult period. They have no Constitution like here. They have the right to say “nil” which means zero adult clubs. They can do that. Boy, if the United States, if Manhattan, could just say no adult, they would do it in a heartbeat.

It’s the same two arms, two legs, two eyes, but at their core, other countries think different. I was going through a court case in England and they didn’t want nudity at the club because they said the dry cleaning fluid on the men’s trousers was apt to cause vaginal infection to the dancer. 

In another instance, the court questioned why customers slouched in the booth when getting a lap dance, and it was explained that slouching insured the customer couldn’t lunge forward or reach up to grab the entertainer. And the court said, “Oh okay, very good, very good.” Now they’re smart people and they’re good people, and I love England but they’re at where we were 15 years ago.

“It was fun and it really honed my business skills to open clubs in foreign lands.”

WAITT: Other US club chain operators have tried to open clubs overseas without much success. What do you think they did wrong?

GRAY: I think they don’t establish the management people there. We have a full presence of people who are physically there. They don’t integrate their company culture to that. It’s tough if you don’t have on the ground senior management, which requires a commitment of more than just sending your regional manager from Texas or Florida over to England to oversee the operation. You have to fully integrate yourself into their culture.

WAITT: One UK newspaper called you “Lord of the Lap Dance” and billed your battle with homegrown nightclub entrepreneur Peter Stringfellow as “US Invades Britain in Table-Dancing Wars.” Were you surprised at how much coverage you received, right up there with the latest gossip about the Royal Family?

GRAY: Any advertising is good advertising. We actually paid a guy 15,000 pounds a month to get us column inches of coverage in the papers. So I’m sitting on the plane reading about the 10 Guys You Most Want to Be and I was Number Six. Remember England’s only the size of California. This was all new to them and they don’t have a lot going on. So over there it was a big thing for the minute. 

But unfortunately, the press there can be negative. We’d wake up in the morning and there would be three vans with the antennas on them outside, waiting to knock on the door. Asking, what does my daughter think about me being in this business? What the hell does that have to do with anything? Yeah, that’s horrible.

WAITT: The UK press went to town. In one article, they described you as “perma-tanned and terrier-like, with a big grin and the swaggering confidence of someone who is frighteningly rich.” Did that make you laugh or cringe?

GRAY: Cringe more than anything because it wasn’t the type of press that I wanted.

WAITT: In a UK news article you said, “The US may be the only superpower but we’re much more immature about thinking about sexuality. You’re much more open here (in the UK) than in the US.” Isn’t it surprising that virtually every other country on the plant, except for maybe North Korea and China, is more sexually progressive than the United States which is supposed to be built on freedom and personal rights?

GRAY: It’s all about perception. When I was a kid, I saw a cartoon in Playboy. In the cartoon, an American is reading a magazine and it says, Sex in Sweden, so he flies to Sweden and picks up a magazine to see where the sex stuff is, and it says Sex in America. 

We were opening a club in Birmingham, England and we probably had 70 protesters. Before we went up for approval, McDonald’s went up and they turned down McDonald’s because they didn’t want a drive-through in their city. We were on the stand seven hours and they voted we could open.

On the flip side, I had a meeting a year ago with our top barrister in the UK who told me about a little bar that was adult, and they’re doing things like a one-legged dancer, an Afro-American man, with an extremely large penis that he could swing around in circles like a hula hoop. They had two girls going at each other. And he said, “John, I can sell that all day long. They are not going to touch the oppressed, the gay rights, the handicapped. It has a place in our society. But I can’t sell perceived prostitution or a girl grinding on a guy’s lap.”

In the U.S. if you are a politician you are not going to vote positive for adult. Period. End of story. It could be constitutionally correct. The guy applying could have a good reputation. There’s nothing good that will come out of it for you if you are an elected official and you vote for adult. Nobody’s going to re-elect you because of it.

“I find business interesting because it’s simple math. It is really just acting on the obvious.”

WAITT: For a club owner, what is more lucrative, a club in the UK or a club in the US?

GRAY: I find some indescribable peace over being global in money and options. I’ve never had the proverbial peace of mind to sit on the beach in the south of Italy somewhere. But I do think their lifestyle is better than ours. If I sit at Starbucks here, even if I don’t have anything to do, I’ll get up pretty quick and go do something because the list is endless here it seems. But on that beach in Italy, I could sit with that coffee much longer. Talk to the person I’m with. And I think that’s a better lifestyle in a lot of ways.

Another EXPO panel

WAITT: Where does your drive come from? 

GRAY: It’s difficult to say without seeming to brag. I’ve been accused of being ultra-intelligent. I find business interesting because it’s simple math. It is really just acting on the obvious. And to that end, I’m amazed at people not acting on the obvious; what the hell did you think was going to happen?

I think the biggest compliment I ever got was when someone said, “You really missed your mark by not going into a publicly traded company as a hired gun and doing the Michael Eisner Disney 10-year gig and then exiting out and you’re done.”

I wish I would’ve had a better trajectory out of the gate. I would’ve been one of the big guys. I really didn’t get my shit together. 

I’m 66 now. My first child came along at 40. And that was a grounding exercise because it made me realize, you can’t take it with you, so how much is enough? Some guys, just do the game, like a board game. They’re just playing it to make money. That’s not me. Money is to be able to live. Do you want a lot to be able to live? Yeah, but you couldn’t give me a 300-foot yacht. I don’t want it.

I’ve got enough. That doesn’t mean I stop, because I enjoy the game. I enjoy giving hospitality to people. I enjoy the business relationships. I’ve met a lot of good people. And it’s fun. And again, the reason that I’ve disappeared or become kind of an enigma is the public eye was strictly to introduce me and Spearmint Rhino to the Bobs of the world, which now can be done with internet.

WAITT: You received your first college degree in 1977, but then you went back in 2010 and earned a Juris Doctorate Law Degree in 2010. By then, you were wildly successful and rich from the club chain, so why go back to school to get a law degree?

GRAY: It always hung over me. It was always in the back of my head. I was surrounded by attorneys all the time. I could talk the talk, but I was lacking their credentials. John Weston said. “You’re going to be formidable if you go to law school because what you already know is scary.”

WAITT: Covid, the poor economy, competing entertainment avenues and bad club management have led to an alarming decrease in the number of adult nightclubs in the United States. At ED, we have the most comprehensive database of adult nightclubs, and we have seen a 30 percent reduction in the number of adult clubs in the past five years. Why do you think there have been so many closures?

GRAY: Well, first, as a philosophy, don’t tell me the problem. Show me the solution. So shit happens. You roll with it, you deal with it. One of the reasons I admire Harry Mohney, he just keeps plugging along. No matter what. If you’re afraid to do it, you have a hundred percent chance of failure. I think many of those clubs were teetering on their own. Too many of them were surviving by virtue of that bag of money and doing it wrong. I think labor kind of put a nail in that because they got tired of not managing it right.

SR Branding

WAITT: What does the future hold for adult nightclubs?

GRAY: It’s a different world right now, but we still make more money as an industry than the little guys in a strip shopping center. These gentlemen’s clubs typically gross more money than their contiguous lease space. It’s one up on a regular bar, no doubt. But it’s also one up on the dry cleaners, the real estate office, the 7-Eleven. 

When the economy dips or an authority comes in and says you can’t do such and such and people complain, I don’t think it’s viable. People lived through the Great Depression. They lived through World War I and II. The lived through Korea and Vietnam. They lived through Covid. There’s always adversity, right? So we can talk about it, but no matter which way the tide breaks, we roll with it because we are not going to change the goddamn tide.

You can sit there and bitch all day long. But look what happened to the magazine people. They’re gone. Look what happened to the porn people. They’re gone, at least in relation to what they used to be. Knock on wood for the brick and mortar clubs.

People ask me all the time, if this thing (adult nightclubs) is going to be holographic? Is it going to go online? The answer is no. There’s nothing that will replace it in my lifetime.

WAITT: And what does the future hold for Spearmint Rhino and John Gray?

 “You can sit there and bitch all day long. But look what happened to the magazine people. They’re gone. Look what happened to the porn people. They’re gone, in relation to what they used to be. Knock on wood for the brick and mortar clubs.”

GRAY: One thing that I’ve always tried to do is be at a place to where if I want to wind down and stop this, I can. It scares the shit out of me to get so big that I’m functioning on the debt services to where the machine can’t stop. I want to be able to sell, pay everybody and have a pile of money on a one-off basis.

What do we do every day? We work. It’s a side benefit if we enjoy what we do, but we work for a third of our life to be able to pay for the leisure third. Then we sleep a third of our life and then we die. When somebody asks, “Don, are you happy?” That’s a bullshit question. What I wish for you is peace of mind, right? Those are two completely different things. And you’re lucky if you attain that. And that’s something different for everybody. And I still search for it every day.

But I do look forward to going to Bob’s Booby Bar in Tennessee and sitting there as a customer because word’s going to get out that I’m John Gray and I’m in there and some owner’s going to come in and shake my hand, and ask, “What are you doing here?” And I’ll say, “What do you think I’m doing here?”

Kathy and Jim do a wonderful job. But are they me? No. Because I’m the guy that’s got the gift of gab and can sit with Bob and get the deal done. Better than anybody. Do they run the company and grow the company? Yes, but you know, there is only one Harry Mohney, only one Michael Peter, only one Eric Langan, and there’s only one John Gray.

*     *     *

NEXT ISSUE: The Founders Interview with the Last Agent Standing: Frank Bane of the Continental Theatrical Agency.

EXPO deal 1