The CultureMap Interview
Bikinis, Texas founder on breastaurants and not taking things too seriously
It’s been nearly a year since the announcement of the newest municipal addition to the Texas Hill Country. In July 2012, CEO and founder of Bikinis, Doug Guller — whose company trademarked the term “breastaurant” earlier this year — announced that he had purchased the abandoned railroad stop of Bankersmith, Texas, and would rechristen it “Bikinis.”
The move attracted plenty of media of attention, both near and far. On Saturday, July 13, hot wings connoisseurs finally get their chance to see if the town lives up to the hype when it hosts a grand opening celebration, including a special appearance by Carmen Electra and an evening concert by Jerry Jeff Walker.
Ahead of the opening, Guller chatted with CultureMap about the founding of the town — which will be surprisingly free of bikini-clad women on most days — and his plans to make it the next major destination in the Hill Country.
CultureMap: You’ve had plenty of success with the Bikinis chain itself, but what made you decide to open an entire town in the Hill Country?
Doug Guller: We wanted a place that wasn’t too far from Austin that … would be an extension of the restaurant we built. We had some ideas around things like Bikinis Hall of Fame, National Bikinis Day and, more recently … a Miss Bikinis U.S.A. pageant out there on the heels of Hawaiian Tropic deciding to discontinue theirs after like 25 years.
So we had these brands, if you will, that we wanted to do something with and sort of build around, and this town gave us the opportunity to do so. You know, on our first event on July 13, we’re inducting the first two people into our Bikinis Hall of Fame.
One is someone who has been an icon for many guys in America, so we’re inducting Carmen Electra as the No. 1. And then we’re inducting a local Bikinis girl by the name of Whitney Bell who’s been with us for about six-and-a-half years. She has really been, for the most part, the face of Bikinis.
We want to grow that Hall of Fame and have pictures and “busts” of these inductees, so people can see how bikinis started in the late 1940s and just see the evolution of where it’s been, where it is today, and where it’s potentially going to go.
With National Bikinis Day [July 17], we wanted to have a big “Bikinis-palooza” out there. Because we’re kicking off Bikinis, Texas, that’s a little overshadowed this year, but that will become a big event we’ll have every year around this time.
CM: And what else is it that you want the town to offer year-round that customers can't experience at any other Bikinis location?
DG: I don’t know if you’ve been to Luckenbach, Gruene Hall or Albert, Texas, but if you put those three in a blender and add Bikinis, that’s what you’re going to come out with as the product that we created. In the town, we built a large 6,000-square-foot dance hall made out of old longleaf pine that came from a church. And there’s several bars throughout the town, there’s a merchandise store, there’s an outdoor stage, and there’s an old 1955 Sky Cruiser bus that we’re turning into a whiskey shot bar.
So what we’re envisioning is a place where, starting in 2014, people will come any day — it’s open every day — and listen to music on the outdoor stage, grab a cold one, maybe buy some merchandise and just relax out there in the Hill Country. So it is a big departure from what you see everyday at a Bikinis [sports bar], and we’re not going to have a full restaurant out there. We’re going to have maybe a couple food trailers or a barbecue pit outside and we’ll serve barbecue every day.
And the only time you’ll see bikini-clad women is in pictures on the wall or around our big events of the year. So two times a year it will be staffed by bikini-clad women, but the rest of the time it will be staffed just like where you go into a local watering hole around the corner from where you live.
CM: Is there any anxiety that comes with this gamble of hoping that people will travel to this location?
DG: You know, it’s something that we’re obviously going to look at after this first event, but we love the fact that it’s out in the Texas Hill Country, because it is an hour-and-a-half from Austin and an hour from San Antonio. And when you’re out there, it’s five minutes from Fredericksburg, which has grown to a big tourist spot with Enchanted Rock and [the] wine country. So people can come to Bikinis, Texas, for the day, [then] go on a wine tour and sleep in a bed-and-breakfast.
If you go in another direction, you’re five minutes from Luckenbach, and that’s a great experience. And being located on Old San Antonio Road, we’re the perfect triangle with the other two points I mentioned, and Old San Antonio is one of the busiest roads in Gillespie County. We just picture it as an oasis away from it all.
CM: Besides the opening of its own town, Bikinis also received some attention over the trademark of the term “breastaurant.” What was the idea behind claiming that word as your own?
DG: I first heard the term maybe three years ago, and we talked about it around the office and kind of laughed about it. Everyone around our company was intermixing the word “breast” with “best.” People would go, “Oh, I guess you’re going to say that Bikinis, Texas, is the ‘Breast’ Place on Earth. Ha ha.”
So we just thought it was a funny thing. Then we thought about it, and it’s a moniker that describes our sports bar and grill chain, and some other folks are referred to as that as well. So we started calling ourselves that, as the only “sports breastaurant,” and put in an application on it and received the trademark for it. We were thrilled that it put us into a category where we became the one company that could call ourselves the only “breastaurant.”
The heart of it all is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. There are a lot of things that go on in the world that are not fun from a news perspective, and we just want to put a smile on people’s faces when they come into the restaurant.
CM: And how would you gauge the public’s reaction to the label of “breastaurant”?
DG: I always think there are two sides to the coin. Folks who are very familiar with us and have been to a location and maybe know someone who works there [may say], “That’s just funny.” Folks who I think are offended by the word “bikini” are also offended by the word “breastaurant.” It’s a very polarizing word — both of them are — because they both paint such visuals.
I’m not going to be the one to change their opinion, nor am I looking to. That’s the greatest thing about living in the U.S. is that folks are entitled to whatever opinion they have. We just keep doing our thing and making sure that we’re putting out a good product and good service at the restaurants.