Note: This is the first installment in a new articles series for ED Publications, dubbed “The Founders Interview Series by ED Founder Don Waitt.”

Picture an old-time movie projector. With huge reels of 35mm film that the projectionist would wrestle into the bulky machine in the little room above the last row of seats in the theater.

That projector is Harry Mohney’s Rosebud. Rosebud was the name of Charles Kane’s beloved sled from Orson Welles’ award-winning movie Citizen Kane. Kane built an empire, with Rosebud at the heart of it all.

For Harry Mohney, it wasn’t a sled. It was a movie projector.

And if it wasn’t for that projector, there might not be a Deja Vu empire.

Granted, if there had been no projector, Mohney would still have been successful, but it probably would not have been in the world of adult entertainment.

How so? Read this interview to find out.

Speaking of this interview, what a challenge it has been to get. Harry Mohney does not give interviews.

Before this interview, he had only given two interviews in his entire life: one to the Detroit Free Press, and a short one years ago to ED Publications.

“Thanks, but I don’t do interviews,” Mohney said when I asked him to be the first in ED’s new Founders Interview Series, a series where I, as the founder of ED Publications, will be doing in-depth, sit-down interviews with the industry’s founders and pioneers.

Mohney’s reluctance, he explained, was because he had found that in the past, things he said, no matter how innocent, could be used against him in civil and criminal court by opposing attorneys.

“It’s not worth the risk,” he explained. But then he added, “I’ll think about it.”

That was the opening I needed and what followed were two months of back-and-forth texts.

Mohney saying no. Me saying yes. Mohney’s no eventually became a maybe. And then it became a let’s see how it goes.

So I hopped on a plane and flew out to Las Vegas to sit down in person with the man himself. Even then I wasn’t sure the interview would go forward. But we finally connected on a sunny Thursday afternoon.

We meet for lunch at the Southern Highlands Country Club in a golf course community just outside of Las Vegas where Mohney has a home. I wait for Mohney to pick me up at the front gate and watch as a slew of high-end import cars come rolling through the gate. The community is fancy and beautifully landscaped. At the country club we sit down at their luxurious restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the first tee.

On the table is a bottle of what I can only assume is expensive wine and two filled wine glasses. Mohney holds his glass up and we toast.

Finally, I think to myself. It’s clear sailing from this point on.


I have brought a long list of printed questions and no less than three recording devices to make sure I get every word. I have a recording app on my phone, a recording app on my iPad, and a hand-held recorder. I move my wine glass to the side and say, “Let me get my recorders out.”

“No,” says Mohney.

“No?” I reply.

“No, no recorders,” says Mohney.

“So, I have to write your answers down in long hand?” I ask.

“Yes. I don’t trust recorders. Tapes can be subpoenaed. Write it down and this way if there’s a problem down the line, I can always say you wrote it down wrong.”

Mohney smiles. Takes a sip of his wine. And we start.


WAITT: According to Google, you were born in 1943. Is that correct?

MOHNEY: Is that what Google says?

Every time I mention a Google fact about Mohney to him, he smiles, almost laughs, and says, “Is that what Google says?”

Before the interview I searched “Harry Mohney” on the internet to see what information there was in the cloud on him. I have known Mohney for over 30 years, but I was curious what the rest of the world knows about him. Very little, apparently, even though the FBI used to refer to him as the “Howard Hughes of porn.” For someone who has been a pioneer in the adult entertainment industry for almost half a century, there is very little information out there on the man.

There are less than a half dozen articles, and those all contain the same verbiage, as if they’ve just rehashed the original story. Each article talks about his numerous adult businesses, calls him the “granddaddy” of one or more segments of the adult industry, and references the government’s many attempts to nail him for being one of those aforementioned granddaddies.

There are a few photos of Mohney online and a videoclip of him on TMZ at one of his club openings. Mohney cringes when I mention the video: “I didn’t even know what the hell TMZ was. They just stuck a microphone in my face.”

Mohney is amused when I mention Google because he knows some of the info on the internet is incorrect and, more importantly, that 99.99 percent of what Mohney has accomplished does not appear anywhere at all on the web.

And he’s more than fine with that.

MOHNEY: Yes, I am 79.

WAITT: For a 79-year-old you are in great shape. How do you stay fit and healthy?

MOHNEY: I get up every day at 6 am. I have a smoothie. I do my exercising and stretching. I play a lot of golf. And I watch what I eat.

Mohney proves that last point when he orders French onion soup at our lunch. He asks the waitress to have it made without the crouton bread.

“I don’t need the carbs,” he says. I tell the waitress I’ll also have the onion soup and she asks if I too want the crouton bread left off and I say no, embarrassed, because the first thing Mohney said when I sat down with him was, “You’ve put on a lot of weight.”

That’s Harry Mohney. He’s very candid and very upfront. No sugarcoating with him. And he’s right, too. I am overweight. He also said that with the extra weight I looked like Harvey Weinstein. I’m not sure what hurts more, looking fat or looking like a convicted sex offender.

Mohney, on the other hand, is spry and fit and looks like he’s in his mid-60s. He golfs all over the country and abroad. When we did this interview, he had just returned from Scotland where he had gone to golf with friends.

WAITT: So what’s your handicap?

MOHNEY: Now it’s 15. It used to be much lower, but I’m older now.

WAITT: Where were you born, and where did you grow up mostly?

“I move quick.
Those chickens were fast.”

— Harry Mohney

MOHNEY: I was born in Battle Creek, Michigan. I was in Michigan until my 40s; I left in the 1980s. My mother was married three times and there were a total of 15 of us kids at one time. I was one of the middle children. I left home at age 15 because I did not get along with my stepfather.

At one point, I was a boarder. I had room and board on a dairy farm out in the middle of nowhere working for an elderly couple. I got $20 a week, two days a month
off and all the good home cooking I could eat. It was just me and them out there. They were nice people, but it was hard work.

Besides the hard work, what Mohney remembers most is that his two days off a month were on Sunday and when he went to town those days, nothing was open.

“I couldn’t spend my money!” he says, exasperated. “In those days there were no malls and nothing was open on Sunday. I was just a lonely kid standing on a street corner of a small town.”

That it’s been over 60 years and he is still irritated he could not spend his hard-earned wages on something fun is insightful. Particularly since he would eventually provide millions of young men with the opportunity to spend their money at fun places from coast to coast.

Mohney (L) and Waitt (R)
Harry Mohney (L) and Don Waitt (R)

WAITT: Did you go to college? Were you in the military?

MOHNEY: I was never in the military. I accumulated enough credits at several junior colleges to get a degree, but I never finished the whole process. I didn’t major in anything in particular and instead took subjects that interested me and enhanced my knowledge, like accounting, mathematics and history.

WAITT: What other jobs did you have?

MOHNEY: I did clean-up work at a chicken slaughterhouse. Have you ever smelled a chicken slaughterhouse? It was horrible. There was caked blood an inch thick on the walls. I was also a fireman for Grand Funk Railroad.

WAITT: The band?

MOHNEY: No I was a fireman on the train engines. But the guys who started the group Grand Funk Railroad lived right there.

I always had more than one job. At one point I was working at Post Cereals during the day and at night I was a projectionist at an art house theater that showed erotic movies. You could call them adult movies but they were so tame that you can watch them on regular television today. The first time I went to jail, it was for showing the movie Mondo Topless at that theater (Mondo Topless was a cult classic 1966 Russ Meyer film).

The art house theater owner was not good with money management and the young Mohney, who had been working multiple jobs since he was 15, would often have to loan money to his boss. Eventually, the owner made Mohney his partner in the theater and then said, “Let’s build another theater in Saginaw, Michigan!”

They did. Soon after, Mohney went out on his own, but those first two art house theaters were the spark that eventually turned into the Deja Vu club chain of Deja Vu Showgirls, Larry Flynt’s Hustlers Clubs, Dream Girls, Little Darlings and Barely Legal, not to mention hundreds of adult drive-ins, adult theaters and adult retail stores.

Google reports that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Mohney was the third-largest distributor of adult movies in the country, and another report claimed that, “For a period of time, he was the single largest pornographer and distributor of adult material in the world.”

That damn Google.

WAITT: Do you ever think about how important that projector was in the direction your life took? If you had not been a projectionist of soft-core adult movies, you may have never gotten into the adult industry.

MOHNEY: That’s true. It was a turning point.

One of the questions I was going to ask Mohney—What made you decide to make a living in the adult entertainment industry?—I don’t ask because as he goes through his early life story, two things become evident.

The first is that Mohney recognizes opportunities and acts quickly. He saw how much money the adult theaters and then the adult clubs could make so he stayed in that market niche.

The second is that Mohney was never going to have just one business. Someone who was on their own at age 15 working multiple jobs is not going to settle for having just one business. Mohney doesn’t stop. As soon as one business is open and running, he’s off to the next one. For the past 30 years Mohney has never owned and/or operated less than 150 businesses at any given time.

“We are not one engine. We are 20 engines. A lot of those engines aren’t making smoke, but they are still pulling the train.”
— Harry Mohney

Your first club, The Green Top, opened in Marshall, Michigan in 1971.

MOHNEY: The Green Top was a rock and roll bar owned by a friend of mine. He was a Vietnam vet and was a paraplegic. He wasn’t able to run the club. He was losing money. He said to me, “Just take this bar, please.” I was in my early 20s. Because it was a rock bar we were getting these crazy girls in there, both as customers and waitresses. I would get them to go topless and lock the doors and have a party. Word got out and soon the bar was packed every night. So I said to myself, “I’m going to get them to go topless every night.”

WAITT: Most entertainment industry people head to Los Angeles or New York and even Miami, but in the early years your businesses were in the Midwest and the Northwest. Was that a conscious choice on your part? Was it because you were more familiar with those markets or because there was less competition there?

MOHNEY: I ended up with stores and clubs all over the country, from California to Texas to Florida. I even had two adult stores in Amsterdam. But initially everything was in the Midwest. That’s just where I was based then.

WAITT: Wait a minute. You were just talking about cleaning up chicken guts in a slaughterhouse, and now you own two adult stores in Amsterdam?

MOHNEY: I move quick. Those chickens were fast.

When Mohney mentions things like owning two bookstores in Amsterdam when he was a young man, he’s not bragging. It’s just there. A statement. No explanation of how a former Michigan ranch hand got to Amsterdam or why he decided to open adult stores there.

It’s like when, during our interview, he mentions that he once almost bought two Russian MiG fighter jets.

Not one jet; two jets. Don’t ask me how that subject came up.

Turns out Mohney and First Amendment attorney Brad Shafer, who does all the legal work for Deja Vu, are both pilots. So when Mohney was in an Eastern Bloc country looking at possible new club locations after the wall came down, he ran into some military guys who offered to sell him two Russian MIGs for a million dollars apiece. Mohney promptly called Shafer and asked him to get the legal paperwork together to get the planes shipped to the US. But the costs to get the planes to the US turned out to be prohibitive, mainly because many of the parts and instrumentation in the planes needed to be replaced with US parts to get FAA approval.

WAITT: But what would you have done if you had gotten those MiGs?

MOHNEY: We would have flown them, of course.

Of course.

Welcome to Harry Mohney’s world.

Where nothing is impossible.

WAITT: You’ve been credited with opening the first-ever drive-in theaters for adult films back in the 1960s and were dubbed the “Big Daddy of drive-in porn theaters” by one newspaper. Your decision to show skin flicks at drive-ins started a national trend. Can you believe people used to sit in their cars in a giant field and watch adult movies? What did that tell you about consumers and their desire for adult entertainment?

MOHNEY: I knew that adult entertainment, adult material of one sort or another, would sell. At the drive-ins, they came as couples. It taught me that if you cater to the women, the men will follow. I would do free entry for women on Tuesday nights and I’d have a couple hundred women show up and get in free, but then twice as many men would come and they would pay.

The adult drive-ins honed Mohney’s business model of maximizing every profit center at his businesses. At the drive-ins he kept the snack bar stocked with food and drinks, he sold adult books and magazines in the snack bar, and he did wet T-shirt contests on top of the snack bar. It’s why today many of his adult retail stores are attached to his adult nightclubs.

Says Mohney, “The story of Deja Vu is about maximizing every single profit center.”

Mohney and I talk about creative marketing and thinking outside the box, and the discussion turns to the great marketing opportunities over recent years that initially seemed like crazy ideas but that became multi-million-dollar ideas. Things like selling bottled water, like selling $6 cups of coffee, like hotels charging resort fees.

“How did we miss out on these opportunities?” asks Mohney, and you can tell that he is seriously irritated that someone else beat him to the punch on building a better mousetrap.
But Mohney never stops thinking about new ways to make profits. When Covid hit, he instructed his restaurants to stop giving away free glasses of water—it’s a health risk after all, he said, wink, wink—and instead charge $1.50 for bottled water.

“It was only $1.50 a bottle, but that added up pretty quick,” notes Mohney.

WAITT: You have said that the name Deja Vu, which is now a national club chain, was actually the name of an adult club you purchased in Lake City, Washington in 1986. Why did you decide to use that name for the majority of adult clubs that you began buying after 1986?

MOHNEY: At first I thought about the name Mynx. I liked any name that had that French hook. Deja Vu (which is French for “already seen”) worked because it’s a link to the past. Everyone has fond memories of past things. It just seemed to fit the product perfectly.

“My business model has been to have friends who became my partners.”
— Harry Mohney

WAITT: You also have branded the club chains of Little Darlings and Dreamgirls. Why not just make all of them Deja Vu?

MOHNEY: We already had two Deja Vus in one market, so we needed another name for the third club. We were just sitting around talking and came up with Dreamgirls and then later Little Darlings.

WAITT: During this process of making a living with adult theaters and adult nightclubs what was happening with your personal life in terms of marriage and children?

MOHNEY: I was married once, to my high school sweetheart. She is Jason’s mother (Jason Mohney is a key executive in the Deja Vu organization and founder of GoBEST!, a national hospitality and club management firm). We had three children together. (Mohney has a total of nine children and ten grandchildren. His son, BJ, also works in the industry at the Deja Vu clubs in the Las Vegas market). She was the best wife a man could have. But I liked the ladies. We split up and she is still one of my best friends in the world. She married a great guy and they have been together for over 40 years. I think she made the best choice possible.

WAITT: Working in the adult entertainment industry today is more accepted than it used to be. Now there is nudity on television, movies have scenes in stripclubs, and you can watch free porn on your laptop or phone. But 40 years ago were you considered a black sheep because you were in the adult business?

MOHNEY: Absolutely. Back then you were definitely perceived as a black sheep. Still, I would have judges and mayors call me and ask me to provide 8mm tapes or dancers for their stag parties. I was never ashamed by what I do. I would just be honest and sincere with people and most of them would accept me and what I do. Some didn’t, but I have found that the people who are the most repressive about sex are often the most perverted.

Mohney says when people used to ask what he did for a living he would say, “I’m a smut peddler.” The way he smiles when he says it, you know he enjoyed using those specific words as much to shock as to explain.

He tells the story of going on a cruise once with one of his business partners and their dates. Mohney kept handing out Deja Vu ball caps to crew members on the ship. His partner suggested he stop calling attention to what they did for a living and keep a lower profile. The next day a crew member came by Mohney’s cabin and said the cruise ship’s doctor, a woman, wanted Mohney and his date to join her at her dinner table that night. The next day the crew member came by Mohney’s cabin and said the cruise director wanted him and his date to join him for dinner that night. And the next day the crew member brought a dinner invitation from the captain himself.

“Harry,” said Mohney’s business partner, “give me some of those damn Deja Vu caps!”

WAITT: You once said, “Becoming ‘the largest adult club chain’ was caused by the onset of the adult video-tape business. From the mid ‘60s to mid ‘80s, we operated 160 adult theaters and around 300 adult stores and arcades across the country. With the advent of the take-home video tape business the adult theaters became obsolete. With so many theaters coast to coast under lease or owned, there was a need to find something to use the properties for. The luck of the draw came when some associates and I bought the Deja Vu club in Lake City, Washington, a failing non-alcohol strip club. When that club turned into a financial success, we found the solution to what to do with all the properties. Growth came from necessity, not desire.”

MOHNEY: Adult stores today still make a lot of money. Right now most of our stores are big stores, 10,000 to 15,000 square feet, in prime locations. We used to have smaller stores, 2,500 to 3,500 square feet, in marginal locations.

WAITT: Why do you think more adult club owners don’t own adult retail stores?

MOHNEY: I just don’t think they know the business.

Halfway through the interview we are joined at the restaurant table by Kim, Mohney’s girlfriend for the past 17 years, and one of Mohney’s golfing buddies. Kim is personable, attractive and attentive to Mohney. Apparently she is also an excellent golfer. Says Mohney, “She can beat a lot of the guys out here.”

The golfing buddy pulls out his wallet and pays off his golfing loss to Mohney from their round earlier in the day. It’s amusing to watch very rich and successful men discuss who owes who $40 for golf bets. But they both know it’s not about the money; it’s about who has to pay who. It’s that competitive streak that builds empires.

The golfing buddy is a relative newcomer to the country club. When they first met, the golf starter asked Mohney and two of his friends if the newcomer could join them as a foursome on the first tee.

“Depends. Does he have money?” joked Mohney, to which the newcomer replied, “Yes, I do.”

While they were golfing Mohney mentioned he had recently played the world famous Augusta National Golf Course, home of the Masters Golf Tournament. The newcomer told Mohney he had also recently played Augusta in a charity tournament and showed him a photo on his cell phone of his foursome. “It was a picture of him, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and the chairman of Microsoft. I said, “What the hell, I need some new friends.’”

When we leave the restaurant, Mohney leaves the golf bet money on the table for the waitress.

WAITT: Successful mega businesses may be the brainchild of the business founder, but those founders almost always attribute much of their success to the team they put together. Who have been key members of your team over the years?

Mohney doesn’t bite at that leading question. I mention key people who have been or are currently in the organization, from Jim St. John to Peter Luster to Don Krontz to Ryan Carlson, and he nods that they have each played a role in the development of Deja Vu, but he does not give an assessment of any of them. Instead he says this:

MOHNEY: Nothing this big is because of one person. We are not one engine. We are 20 engines. A lot of those engines aren’t making smoke, but they are still pulling the train.

WAITT: Your son Jason has been part of the Deja Vu and Hustler Club operations for years now and has built up his own persona in the industry. Jason has big shoes to fill, so how would you assess his performance?

MOHNEY: I think Jason will do fine.

WAITT: I heard a story and I’m not sure if it is an urban myth, but I wanted to ask you about it. To gain operating experience you sent Jason to one of your clubs in Canada. Supposedly Jason called you in a bit of a panic and said an outlaw biker gang had come into the club and demanded protection payments. They said they would burn the club down if Jason did not pay. Jason asked for your advice and you said, “What the hell, just double the fire insurance coverage.” True or false?

MOHNEY: That’s probably a true story.

KIM: That sounds like Harry.

GOLFING BUDDY: Oh yeah, that’s Harry.

Mohney speaks fondly of both Larry Flynt and Jimmy Flynt who he knew from Cincinnati, and with whom he started the national chain of Hustler Clubs.

MOHNEY: I had adult stores and they had go-go bars. I remember one day when Larry said, “I’m going to start this magazine and call it Hustler.”

I have so many Larry Flynt stories. He could be the nicest guy and had a great memory. He would remember little things about my girlfriend, no matter how many girlfriends I had.

He liked to gamble. He gambled too much. He could lose a lot. It made me uncomfortable. One time at a casino I said, “Larry, why do you gamble so much?” He said (Mohney does a perfect impression of Larry Flynt’s gravely voice), “Because I’m paralyzed, Harry, and I can’t play fucking golf like you. What else am I going to do for fun?”

The Flynt brothers Larry and Jimmy had an on-again, off-again relationship over the years and unfortunately before Larry’s death in 2021 from heart failure, the brothers were at odds. They both reached out to Mohney who said, “I don’t want to pick sides. I’m going to lose one of you as a friend; I don’t want to lose both of you.”

WAITT: Whose idea was it to build the Hustler Club national chain?

MOHNEY: It was our idea. He let me run the clubs and he ran the stores (Hustler Hollywood adult retail stores).

WAITT: Did you see Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of Larry Flynt in the movie, The People vs. Larry Flynt? How accurate was his portrayal?

MOHNEY: I thought it was good. Pretty much on point. Both the actors that played Larry (Harrelson) and Jimmy (Brett Harrelson) and the wife (Courtney Love).

WAITT: What’s something you learned from your dealings with Larry Flynt?

MOHNEY: Larry never bought any publicity. He always looked for an angle to get free worldwide publicity.

WAITT: Would an example of that be the famous Deja Vu tagline of “1,000s of Beautiful Girls & 3 Ugly Ones” used on club marquees, billboards and marketing materials?

MOHNEY: I can’t remember who came up with that line, but it is famous. That slogan is more well-known than the Deja Vu name. I can mention Deja Vu in other countries and people ask, “Is that the club with the 1,000s of Beautiful Girls and 3 Ugly Ones?” That slogan has helped keep the Deja Vu brand alive.

WAITT: It seems like your marketing and branding strategy has been to be irreverent and mischievous. Unlike high-end white-collar clubs, Deja Vu clubs have always seemed to be more casual and fun. Not blue-collar necessarily, but certainly not fancy. Was that the idea?

MOHNEY: Being irreverent, I have to admit I probably learned that from Larry. And I have always wanted our clubs set up in such a way that the customers did not feel pressured and they had fun.

WAITT: You are known for strategic partnerships with other people with many of your clubs. How are those partnerships formed? Do you seek out new partners or do they seek you out?

MOHNEY: My business model has been to have friends who became my partners and who will manage the businesses and markets and live in those markets. I have had great joy in having those associations. And those associations have lasted 40 to 50 years.

I remember the guys I am partners with at the Hustler Club in New York saying, “You are the best partner. You have all the infrastructure we need, from legal advice to sound and lighting, and you don’t meddle. You don’t tell us what to do.”

Some people want to set it up so they get the most from the partnership. My theory is different. I would rather have happy partners. I always structured the partnerships so my partners feel like they are getting the best deal. I don’t count the other guy’s money. I usually give more.

I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by a lot of great partners, associates, and staff.

A good example of how Mohney turns friends into business partners is his longtime partner Roger Forbes.

Remember that first Deja Vu club Mohney bought in Lake City, Washington in 1986? Someone had told him about the club’s availability and he was getting ready to drive up and look it over when his friend Forbes asked, “Mind if I tag along?” followed a bit later with “Mind If I buy into this club with you?”

Mohney answered yes to both questions and over the next 35-plus years he and Forbes owned dozens and dozens of adult businesses together, all while remaining the best of friends.

WAITT: You operate both alcohol and non-alcohol clubs. What are the pluses and minuses of each type of club for an operator?

MOHNEY: At one point most of our clubs were non-alcohol. A non-alcohol club can do just as well as an alcohol club if you utilize the profit centers correctly: cover charges, dances, soft drink sales, etc. With alcohol clubs, you make more money on drink sales, but then you have dram shop issues, more customer fights and confrontations, higher insurance premiums and product costs. At non-alcohol clubs you can sell a 25 cents Coke for $10.

WAITT: If the government said you could only operate one type of club, which would you pick? Non-alcohol or alcohol?

MOHNEY: I’d go with the non-alcohol club, because if the government is involved they are always up to something.

WAITT: Rio Rivers recalls dancing at one of your clubs in Florida many years ago before she became a feature entertainer and then a pageant owner. She says you would occasionally come in very low key, almost in disguise with your cap down low, and just sit in the back and watch the club operations for hours.

MOHNEY: That’s true. I like being in the clubs. Seeing what is going on.

Early evening we go by two of Mohney’s non-adult clubs on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas, a karaoke bar called Cat’s Meow and a restaurant bar called Dick’s Last Resort. At each spot after Mohney gets his guests seated, he gets up and walks around the entire venue and speaks with the manager, hostess and security before returning to sit with his guests. While conversing with his guests, his eyes never stop scanning the clubs and at one point he notes, “The music is a little loud tonight.” He pauses then adds, “But the customers like it.”

Later, when we are at Cat’s Meow enjoying some tone-deaf customers singing karaoke, Mohney pulls out his phone and texts the club’s GM that he needs to have the dust cleaned off the AC vent system above the stage. “I shouldn’t have to tell him about that. He should know,” says Mohney.

“There is no one person more important than the others, not even the owner.”
— Harry Mohney

WAITT: What is the biggest mistake first-time adult club owners make?

MOHNEY: They think this is a playground and not a business.

WAITT: What is the biggest mistake club owners who have owned an adult club for more than 10 years make?

MOHNEY: Not working the club themselves. Being absentee owners.

WAITT: Who is the most important staff person at a club and why?

MOHNEY: There is no such thing. In any business there is no one person more important than the others, not even the owner. If the janitor doesn’t keep the club clean, no one buys dances. If the bartenders or waitresses are rude, no one buys dances. If the entertainers are unfriendly, no one buys dances. The whole team needs to work together.

WAITT: Who is the most expendable staffer at a club?

MOHNEY: The manager. If your club is failing 99 out of 100 times, then you’ve got the wrong manager. A good GM has to be a great salesperson, like the guy who can sell ice to Eskimos. He or she needs to sell the whole team on working together.

At Dick’s Last Resort and the Cat’s Meow, Mohney doesn’t drink because he’s driving. That doesn’t stop him from taking an occasional sip of Kim’s margarita. Mohney has never smoked, he doesn’t do drugs, and he’s not a heavy drinker, although he does like his wine. At one point he says, “Oh, we also have a vineyard in France with some partners.” He says it almost apologetically like he should have mentioned it when we were talking earlier about his non-adult businesses.

When we leave Cat’s Meow, Mohney checks the bar tab. “You had a club soda, right?” he says to one guest. I know it’s not about the money. He just wants to make sure the waitress is accurate on the bill. Nothing escapes his attention. Even when I try to pay for a round by slipping the waitress a $100 bill. Mohney stops the waitress, takes the money from her and hands it back to me.

And he gives me a look. The Harry Mohney look.

My bad, I think to myself.

WAITT: If you have two entertainers auditioning and one is incredibly sexy but can’t carry a conversation, and the other is kind of plain but is a great conversationalist, which one would you hire?

MOHNEY: Personality wins. You can teach a human being anything and everything, except personality. We have one dancer who looks like a Sumo wrestler, boobs down to her navel, big belly. But she greets every customer at the door, says let me show you around, tells them if they see an entertainer they want a dance from to let her know. Every single customer buys a dance from her. She has the biggest tip-out every night.

WAITT: Adult club owners face so many more hurdles than non-adult business operators, from the employee versus independent contractor issue to six-foot rules to unsubstantiated claims of sex trafficking. Does that wear you out as an operator or is it as one club executive said to me, “I love it. Because if it wasn’t so hard, everybody would own a stripclub.”

MOHNEY: In theory, I agree. If opening an adult nightclub was like opening a corner drugstore, everyone would have one. You can add the Moral Majority into that equation. The more the Religious Right claims that what we do should be forbidden, the more customers we get. I think they should build even more churches.

Mohney owns and operates numerous non-adult clubs, restaurants, all types of bars, from karaoke bars to cigar bars to sports bars, even a hotel and an erotic museum. When you ask him why, he says he always has a reason. A good reason.

What about the hotel in New Orleans called the Haunted Hotel?

Well, it’s because when the devastating Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, Mohney needed a safe place for the staff at all his clubs in New Orleans to stay while they worked to get the clubs back up and running.

So he bought a hotel.

And he had his club in Shreveport, Louisiana send down bottled water and generators. His clubs were among the first to open after the hurricane. He then renamed the hotel as the Haunted Hotel and now it caters to tourists to the French Quarter.

What about Dick’s Last Resort, a non-adult, raucous bar and restaurant chain?

Ryan Carlson was taking Deja Vu staff to the bar/ restaurant branch in Las Vegas for training sessions. He convinced Mohney to come by and see the operation. Mohney saw the potential and said to Carlson, “How do we buy this?” The small chain was owned by an investment group in New York and when the smoke settled Mohney owned 51 percent of the operation and was building new outlets.

“They were losing money, but they had good people,” says Mohney. “I got better food, better marketing and I got rid of all the CEOs and CFOs. I did it myself. They are doing great now.”

There are now Dick’s Last Resorts in Panama City, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Myrtle Beach, Gatlinburg, Nashville, Dallas, San Antonio and two locations in Las Vegas.

Same with the Cat’s Meow karaoke bars. “I got them 18 years ago, and improved on the operation,” says Mohney. Today there are Cat’s Meows in New Orleans, Las Vegas, Saginaw, Nashville and Orange Beach, Alabama.

And in 2008 Mohney opened the Erotic Heritage Museum right on The Strip in Las Vegas.

“You need to protect everyone in the
industry if you want to protect yourself.”
— Harry Mohney

WAITT: You have lots of varied businesses. Have you ever considered getting into the marijuana dispensary business, which some adult club owners have done?

MOHNEY: No, and let me tell you why: Your employees there have to know the product, right? So who are you going to have to hire?

WAITT: People who smoke a lot of pot.

MOHNEY: Exactly. Potheads. Why do I want to own a business run by potheads?

I mention that Mohney owns adult venues in Europe and Australia and Mexico where governments in those countries, and even the local population, could care less that they are sexually oriented business and so leave him alone for the most part. I ask Mohney what is it is about America where everyone freaks out about an exposed breast onstage?

“I don’t know,” says Mohney. “Makes no sense to me. We seem to be the only country that is like that. In Europe and Latin America they couldn’t care less.”

WAITT: Is there any type of business you have not yet acquired but that is on your bucket list?

MOHNEY: No, there’s nothing on the list. I have no desires.

WAITT: That is until someone entices you with a new venture, correct?

MOHNEY (smiling): Maybe, if it’s the right time, the right place and the right price.

WAITT: You have so many clubs, both adult clubs and regular nightclubs, and so many businesses. How in the world do you keep track of everything? How do you keep from being overwhelmed?

MOHNEY: I am surrounded by very competent people. Without them I would have probably blown my brains out a long time ago. But I must admit, I’m working harder now than ever.

WAITT: Oftentimes it’s the big chains such as Deja Vu that put up the majority of the money to fight statewide legal battles on behalf of all the clubs. Does it ever bother you that you have to shoulder a majority of the financial burden?

MOHNEY: It’s all for one and one for all. You need to protect everyone in the industry if you want to protect yourself. I’ve always been an advocate for the First Amendment and civil and personal rights. We have even come to the defense of competing clubs in our markets. Luckily we’ve had the money to do it. Because again, If I don’t protect you, I’m not protecting me.

In between lunch at the country club and dinner at Dick’s Last Resort, Mohney and Kim take me to their home to meet up with Mohney’s son, BJ, who is bringing a truck and a trailer to pick up a giant half-circle couch from their Deja Vu club. Kim borrowed the couch to set up in their circular driveway so they and the parents in the neighborhood would have a comfortable spot to sit and sip wine while the Halloween trick-o-treaters came by.

When BJ pulls up, he and he alone gets out of the pick-up truck. I look at him and then at the quarter-ton couch and then back at him. Where are the movers?

Before you know it Mohney and Kim are helping BJ manhandle the massive piece of unwieldy furniture up and into the trailer. Kim has scrambled into the bed of the trailer to pull on the couch while Mohney is lifting it from the back. Did I mention that Mohney is 79 years old?

I pitch in with the lifting, and we all pitch again when BJ follows us in the truck to the Deja Vu warehouse where we unload the couch.

When we are lifting the couch into the trailer, I say to Mohney, “Boy, if this couch could talk?”

“I don’t want to know,” laughs Mohney.

The truck-loading incident tells you all you need to know about Mohney.

He doesn’t wait for others to make things happen.

He gets things done.

He is hands on.

And the past 40 years have not slowed him down one iota.

“Does this mean I’m on the Deja Vu payroll now?” I ask in the car afterwards.

“Sure, you are and you get what we all get,” says Mohney holding his hand up and forming a zero with his thumb and index finger.

BJ laughs and says, “Ain’t that the truth.”

“Almost every day of your life is a milestone, whether you recognize it or not.” — Harry Mohney

Jason and Harry Mohney

WAITT: Describe your average work day.

MOHNEY: I get up early, have my smoothie with some fruit, get my exercising in. I spend four to six hours answering emails. I get over 100 emails a day. I usually skip lunch. Sometimes I visit some of my locations in Vegas. And some days I go golfing.

A text or an email from Mohney is short. No matter how long your text or email to him is, no matter how many detailed questions you ask, his reply is always short. If you get more than five or six words you’re lucky. It’s up to you to figure out what his answers are. Says Mohney, “I don’t have time for long replies.”

And he travels light.

He is not surrounded by handlers. When you see him at the Annual Gentlemen’s Club EXPO, it’s just him. No entourage. He goes almost unnoticed. He could be sitting right next to you at an EXPO panel session and you wouldn’t even know you are sitting next to the big guy.

He’s the guy who’s nattily dressed like he just stepped off the 18th hole. Almost always with a golf cap. Not a ball cap, a golf cap.

And when you call Mohney, you get Mohney. There is no secretary screening his calls. Not even a receptionist.

WAITT: You and Deja Vu have been longtime supporters of ED Publications going back to the first ED Directory over 30 years ago. Frankly, without Deja Vu’s advertising support in those early years ED might not have kept going. Why did you support a fledgling publication and then a fledgling convention, the Annual Gentlemen’s Club Owners EXPO? Most of the industry didn’t know we existed, but you were first up to the plate with your support.

Mohney shrugs off the thank-you for decades of advertising and sponsorship support for ED and the EXPO. He says he saw the role ED was playing to bring the industry together and he just naturally supported it. He references his acceptance speech from 2003 when he was inducted into the Exotic Dancer Hall of Fame and said from the stage, “ED has taken us from the backroom into the boardroom, from the backstreets to main street, and from no culture to pop culture.” His speech was twenty years ago and he still recalls those exact words.

And in 2005 Jimmy Flynt presented Mohney with the Reuben Sturman Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2005 AVN Awards, an awards show honoring adult entertainment content producers and adult retail stores.

WAITT: Looking back, what are some milestones from your life?

MOHNEY: Almost every day of your life is a milestone, whether you recognize it or not.

WAITT: In an interview with ED some years ago, when asked how you would like to be remembered you said, “Freedom is not free, and I have always tried to be a part of protecting freedom for all of my fellow business friends and associates.”

Mohney was brought up on charges of obscenity over 100 times, seven times on federal charges of interstate shipping of “obscene” material. He was acquitted by federal juries in Flint, Michigan; Nashville; Miami; and Honolulu. “Those were the tough years to be in business,” he recalls.

WAITT: You also said in that interview that, “I hope my staff will remember the honesty and loyalty I always tried to show them. And I hope the integrity and innovation I brought to the industry will be thought of kindly. Most of all, I hope my family will think kindly of my effort to leave them an empire.”

Anything you would like to add to that?

MOHNEY: Life is about beautiful women, fine wine and a good set of golf clubs. If God made anything else, he kept it to himself.

NEXT ISSUE: The Founders Interview with the man who brought glamour to the gentlemen’s club industry: Michael J. Peter.


EXPO deal 1