Is the vending machine business in Dallas really a free enterprise? That question may be answered soon, as three local nightclub owners take to the entrepreneurial battlefield against the mammoth B&B Vending Co., the local subsidiary of a Chicago corporation that has virtually controlled the nightclub vending machine business in Dallas for decades.
Last February, Don Furrh, Michael Murphy and John Woodruff ordered B&B to remove its pool tables and vending machines from the dozen or so topless clubs that the three men own or lease through two separate business entities. Furrh owns the Million Dollar Saloon and subleases several other clubs owned or operated by MJR Corp. or its ex-employees. MJR still owns The Fare outright and has complex sublease, ownership or management agreements with several other local topless clubs. For more than a decade, those topless joints had collectively been among B&B’s most lucrative clients (to the tune of roughly $600,000 annually, says Furrh’s attorney, Jerry W. Biesel). A B&B spokesman says that over the years it has loaned the businesses “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
As a part of their plan to get into the vending machine business, the three men shelled out $375,000 to buy and renovate a warehouse at 2332 Irving Blvd. about a month before bidding farewell to B&B. They applied to the state for an amusement machine license and incorporated Quality Vending Inc. Quality is 34-percent owned by Furrh, with Murphy and Woodruff each talcing a 33-percent ownership slice. After demanding removal of B&B’s machines, the club owners promptly installed Quality’s machines in their bars-machines that Furrh claims he had to purchase from Bally Southwest in Houston because the three largest distributors in Dallas refused to sell to him. Quality Vending currently has vending machines in about 20 locations, most of them topless bars owned by Furrh and MJR Corp. (owned by Murphy and Woodruff)- In the past few months, however. Quality has added a few new customers, including Café Dallas and Packard’s, two Greenville Avenue nightclubs.
B&B Vending has hardly accepted Quality Vending’s challenge sitting down. Shortly after Furrh, Murphy and Woodruff asked the company to remove its machines, B&B filed a series of civil lawsuits in state court, alleging that Furrh and his associates had violated “location agreements’-formal contracts that give B&B exclusive rights to put its machines in the three men’s night-clubs. In legal documents, B&B said the club owners’ actions were “willful, malicious and intentional” and that the three “come into court with unclean hands.” Furrh says he welcomes the legal challenge (which is expected to go to trial sometime this fall), contending that the contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
According to Furrh, shortly after Quality’s machines were put into place, funny things started happening. For instance, he says. Quality’s machines were being jammed with bent quarters and gummed up with a substance sprayed from an aerosol can; cue balls were being stolen from pool tables; and the clubs were receiving unusual inspections from state amusement machine commission agents. Furrh even claims that he and Biesel have received death threats from anonymous callers since they decided to compete with B&B in the marketplace. “They’ve had things their way for too long,” says Furrh.
However, B.H. Williams, president of B&B, denies Furrh’s allegations. “There’s not a word of truth in what he says, and he knows it,” says Williams. “If you want to know what kind of guy Furrh is, just check with the police department.”
Kay Harrell,a Dallas-based inspector with the state amusement machine commission, says that there have been no formal complaints lodged by Quality Vending.
B&B, originally owned by Williams, was sold in the early Seventies to Interstate United Corp. of Chicago for an estimated $5 million. Williams still manages B&B, but he’s also a senior vice president of Interstate’s public vending division and has been on the corporation’s board of directors for 10 years. Since 1979, Interstate has been 77 percent owned by Hanson Trust Ltd. of London, a large holding company with interests ranging from food concessions to textiles and batteries. Interstate United is handling the concessions for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Since the early Seventies, B&B has been the subject of numerous organized crime investigations by state and federal law enforcement agencies. In 1979, one federal law enforcement agency estimated that B&B might control as much as 40 percent of the lounge business in the state of Texas.
Furrh, who owned about 20 topless clubs during the Sixties, was once known as Dallas’ “go-go king.” He has been arrested a number of times but has never has been convicted of a felony. In the late Seventies, claiming that he was being harassed by Dallas vice squad officers, Furrh sold all but a few of his clubs to Murphy, a former Southwestern Bell executive, and Woodruff, a onetime regional sales representative for Swank Jewelry. Furrh again became actively engaged in the topless club business in 1982, when he opened the Million Dollar Saloon.