Yesterday, Frontburner broke a bit of news: Mike Precker, who famously went from being a veteran Dallas Morning News reporter to the day manager and PR guy for uber-classy strip club The Lodge, has been fired.
Precker spent five years working at the club after taking the buyout from the DMN; his firing comes on the heels of owner Dawn Rizos retreating from running the day-to-day operations at the club. She's apparently handed the reins to her ex-husband Nick. But from what we're told, Precker's departure is just the beginning of the changes afoot at Dallas' most famous strip club.
"We don't like the 'S' word," Precker said on the phone yesterday. He sounded like he was wincing a little. And he's still using the word "we" to talk about his former employers; it's been only a week or so since he was let go.
"It's still fresh," he said. "I'm sad. I'm not angry. I had five pretty great years there."
It's still a little mysterious why Dawn Rizos has given over control of the business to her ex-husband, who also owns the Greek restaurant Stratos. He and Dawn were famously once in the strip club business together, with Nick at the helm, running a place called Caligula XXI. Jim Schutze wrote long ago about money that Nick Rizos may have offered to former city council member Al Lipscomb during that time.
But that was a long time ago, and the Lodge, Dawn Rizos and Precker have always insisted, is a different kind of club, one that operates above the law, respects its dancers, and provides a less-skeezy environment for its customers (which we're sure they appreciate very much). In recent years, Precker and Dawn have rather brilliantly managed PR for the Lodge, talking to reporters more or less freely where most other clubs in town avoid publicity at all costs.
But a source familiar with the club said that Dawn has all but disappeared from view, and that Nick is instituting changes that have many of the dancers and waitresses worried and angry. The dancers are suddenly onstage all the time, for one thing. That's good for the club, but not for them: private dances are where they make their money.
"With rare exceptions, they make maybe 20 bucks max onstage," the source told us. "Nobody wants to go." But where dancers were once required to do one or two songs onstage per shift, since Nick took over, they're sometimes onstage five or six times a night. The number of waitresses has also suddenly leaped from eight or so per shift to almost 20, crowding the floor and preventing the ones who are there from making any real money.
Finally, a "shitty happy hour buffet," as our source put it, a free one, brings in a lot of people who have one drink, eat some free steam table food, ogle the girls, then skip out without shelling out any real cash.
All of this is standard at other strip clubs, but until recently, it wasn't the case at the Lodge.
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"Morale is in the negative integers," the source told us. "He's making a lot of big changes, really suddenly, which is cause for alarm and complaints in any business, especially one that was built on trust within the ranks. That place is really close-knit, bordering on cheesy 'family' analogies. It worked because the rules made sense, and we believed in them, and in the business. it was structured to maximize profits for all of us, while maintaining a respectful working environment. All that's gone now. His bottom line is seemingly the only one that matters."
Precker, though, doesn't have anything but kind words for his former employer.
"I've got nothing bad to say about the Lodge," he told us politely. But he, too, admitted that Dawn Rizos didn't seem to be around much anymore. His firing, he said, was definitely Nick's call. "I like Nick ... but it's clear that it was his decision, and not Dawn's or anyone else's."
And Precker says he loved being Dawn's number two man for the last five years. "It was easy to be a good ambassador for the Lodge and a good spokesperson for her," he told us, clearly a little emotional. "Because what she did was really honorable."