ARLINGTON Occasionally, someone walks into a location of Redneck Heaven, the DFW-based mini-chain, expecting to find a barbecue joint. They might not be surprised by the Southern-fried memorabilia on the walls and the ceiling each of the three locations has a Smokey and the Bandit-style TransAm hood and door or by the comfort-food menu.
Instead, they might do a double-take over the largely female staff or, rather, their apparel, which skews toward Daisy Dukes and bare midriffs.
But after MTV debuts Big Tips Texas, a reality series about the women of Redneck Heaven, on Wednesday night, few surprises will be left.
The series, which features 10 Redneck staffers (a mix of veterans and new girls), has what weve come to expect from shows like this: scantily clad young women drinking, partying, fighting, crying, making up, hanging out by the pool and thats all just in the first 20 minutes.
But executive producer Ross Breitenbach says theres more to it. A veteran of producing such DFW-filmed shows as CMTs Texas Women and Styles Big Rich Texas, Breitenbach says he paid a visit to one of the Redneck Heaven locations after a friend saw it online. He wasnt sure what to expect, but he liked what he saw.
I was kind of blown away not only by the girls and how friendly they were and upbeat and what great showmanship they have, Breitenbach says in a phone interview, but also by the Texas culture and how Redneck Heaven perceived Texas culture and what a great fun place is must be to work.
Breitenbach met with William Tinker, the Redneck CEO whos better-known as just Tinker, and Typhani Gibbs, who manages all three locations and who, in the premiere, points out that Tinker is her boyfriend. They introduced Breitenbach to some of their favorite bartenders and servers, and the show sort of cast itself. It was shot mainly at the Arlington restaurant, but features staff from the Fort Worth location and the original Lewisville Redneck.
Redneck had been such a negative word for so many years, and now its used with a sense of pride, Breitenbach says, adding that he doesnt believe that the womens clothing is that revealing relatively speaking. You look at the girls, and theyre attractive young women. Theyre wearing the uniform, which is simply Daisy Dukes. I think theyre much more covered up than at some other themed restaurants not only around the country, but also in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Big dreams, too
As the double-entendre title suggests, the servers and especially the bartenders can make good money quickly at Redneck (according to one employee, bartenders can make $700 a night). The series is a mix of women saving up for the future such as Morgan Adler, who has dreams of becoming a professional-level barrel racer, and Sabrina de los Santos, who spent three years at Harvard University doing legal studies and is considering going back while others want to work their way up in the chain, from servers to bartenders to the business office.
Many of the women say they were working at restaurants or retail stores and were recruited by other Redneck workers to come in. Some say they had been working at other breastaurants such as Hooters, and found them too regimented and Redneck to be much more fun. Gibbs, now pretty far up the chain, says she was one of the recruits.
I was one of the people that had a preconceived notion about Redneck Heaven, she says. I would never go in there, and then a couple of my friends were coming in to help with the drinks, and I came in with them, and a manager said Do you want to fill out an application? I said, If I can be a bartender. And they said OK, and I filled out the application. Really, I accepted the job because I didnt like where I was working at the time, but I was shocked by how quickly it became my second family. Just my escape from everything.
Family and sisterhood come up a lot on the show, where the working atmosphere is compared to a sorority. During a press day at the Arlington location, the family has on its company manners, but the premiere puts a big emphasis on sibling rivalry as Morgan Adler, one of the new girls, gets on the nerves of veteran bartender Amber Rosales, and vice versa. But there are also many bonding scenes.
I think youll see very relatable stories, Breitenbach says. Young women who look at these girls will find very relatable stories as they are like-minded girls that have each others backs. Theyre going through boyfriend issues, theyre going through issues with whether they want to get into the rodeo or theyre going through issues with their families, or supporting their families.
Empowerment or embarrassing?
Young women finding relatable stories is exactly what some watchdog groups are worried about.
Its a flimsy excuse to show attractive young women in scant apparel and it communicates a terrible message to both the young men and the young women who are watching, Melissa Henson, director of communications and publications for the Parents Television Council, told FoxNews.com. To the young women it says that empowerment means taking off your clothes. To young men it says that it is OK to treat women like a piece of meat. Theres your viewing pleasure.
Redneck Heaven staffers simply say, if you dont like it, dont watch, and dont go to the restaurants.
If its not your type of style, and you dont like that we wear half-clothing, then its just not your type of restaurant to come to, says Jillian Mittag, one of the bartenders featured in the show. I dont see anything wrong with it. People have different judgments on it, but were not doing anything wrong here. Were a family, we work together, we make awesome money.
The Lewisville location made headlines recently when the Lewisville City Council responded to citizen complaints about waitresses wearing only body paint and pasties serving customers in the parking lot. The council clarified this summer that the employees needed to be covered up more, or that Redneck Heaven be considered a sexually oriented business.
That led to similar ordinance-tightening by officials in Fort Worth and in North Richland Hills, which doesnt have a Redneck Heaven but wanted to make a pre-emptive move just in case. The issue is expected to come up in the series.
Breitenbach, who says he has earned a nickname as the DFW Producer because of his North Texas-based shows, says he fell in love with Texas and Texan pride after visiting his brother, who lives in Austin.
He says he appreciates the diversity of the state and that he thinks hes captured some of it in Big Tips Texas, which features city women, country women and women who have moved here from out of state. He acknowledges that he has taken a certain amount of heat for the Texas cliches that have become so standard in reality series (to his credit, the first shot in Big Tips Texas isnt of a cow). But he takes pride of his own in Big Tips Texas.
This show is about this wonderful group of young women that love life, he says. They basically go out and celebrate life and live a loud life, and they have a lot of fun doing it, and theyre very entertaining to watch. I think they represent Texas well in the way they dress and the way they act and their view on life and in grabbing the bull by the horns. Its a big, loud ride, but it has a lot of heart and soul.