"Just a Souvenir Shop. Nothing Suspicious About It. No Need to be Alarmed."Ah, The Mafia. Known for their subtlety and planning, they can orchestrate murder, drug dealing, prostitution, and the sale of illicit tomato sauce without anyone finding out. But their fronts lack the same subtlety, as can clearly be seen on the massive sign above their hideout that says "Legitimate Casino! Not Mafia-owned!" Expect a great deal of Doublespeak. Sometimes non-Mafia criminal organizations also employ this trope. The Trope Namer is Fat Tony and the Springfield Mafia's lair on The Simpsons, itself a reference to Al Capone's famous claim of being just "a legitimate businessman". Compare Most Definitely Not a Villain. Contrast Covert Group with Mundane Front. Not to be confused with the Smoky Gentlemen's Club, although it may look like one, especially if it's the personal hangout of The Don himself.
— Sign in front of Team Rocket's base, Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Baccano!: The Martillo Family run a speakeasy in Prohibition-era New York City, with a shop selling honey as a front.
- Black Lagoon: The Church of Violence is a supposedly Christian church that sells weapons, despite that the church doesn't seem to do anything even remotely religious. Other organizations in Roanpur are a bit more legitimate.
- Sin City mobsters usually tend to hide in plain sight. They pretend to be country clubs, legit casinos, and even the church but they are usually fronts for criminal organizations. Most people know this, though. They just choose to ignore it.
- The Kingpin's organization from Marvel Comics used to pose as a normal spice business before being eventually exposed.
- In the Batman comics, The Penguin runs the Iceberg Lounge, a seemingly innocent nightclub, but with areas hidden from the public to deal with things of a more illegal nature. Batman is aware of this and sometimes hangs around the club in disguise to keep tabs on The Penguin's activities.
- In The Godfather films, Vito Corleone poses as an "Olive Oil Importer", and occasional references are made to "the Olive Oil business" when characters do not want to refer to what actually goes on. (Subverted in that he actually does have a legitimate business that imports olive oil; it just isn't where most of his money comes from.)
- In the original novel, he starts out as a completely legitimate olive oil importer. Then he cuts corners by intimidating his rivals into selling their business to him. Then Prohibition comes along and he realizes there are some bottled goods he can import that would be more profitable than olive oil...
- Some Like It Hot: The climax involves the Friends of Italian Opera.
- Get Shorty has two in Florida! Vesuvio is an Italian restaurant that while might not be owned my the Mafia, they let Ray Bones do whatever he wants there. Rich's Barber Shop, has the barber actually cutting hair, but the back room is a loan shark office. Even legitimate patrons know its a front and tip off Chili Palmer when someone is coming by coughing. Bo Catlett runs a limo service that is a front for a small time drug ring. And one could say the point of the movie is all of Hollywood is a front for organized crime calling them selves Producers.
- Nino's Pizza in Drive. Doubly so because as Nino's introductory scene points out, he's actually Jewish, and aspires to be held in higher esteem by the Italian Mafia.
- In Mississippi Burning, a savvy, Southern-born FBI agent discovers a hangout where some local men are drinking beer. When he orders one, the crooked sheriff's deputy tells him, "You have to be a member to drink here." The FBI agent asks, "A member o' what?" The deputy replies, "The social club," but it's obvious to everyone (including the audience) that he really means the Ku Klux Klan.
- In the original Scarface, Castillo is president of the "First Ward Social Club". After Camonte kills him and Lovo takes over, it becomes the First Ward Athletic Club.
- In Dick Tracy, Big Boy Caprice uses the Club Ritz as a front for gambling and a base for his other illegal activities. Tracy isn't fooled, and even manages to use this knowledge to keep tabs on him.
- The Serial Murders by Kim Newman: Lampshaded — psychic investigator Richard Jeperson is introduced to some very obvious Legitimate Businessmen by the villain, who is auctioning his supernatural powers to be used for assassination. Upon being introduced to them, Jeperson guesses that they're 'olive oil salesmen', in reference to The Godfather example above. They appreciate the joke, but the villain — who is both rather uncultured and a bit of an idiot — is lost.
- Impro Fanfic Do Gooders had the "Tokyo Legitimate Businessmen's Club" — probably in tribute to The Simpsons. To their credit, neither the heroes nor the main villain realized their actual purpose until the shoot-out started. Then again, everyone else knows what they really do...
- According to The Discworld Companion, the Ankh-Morpork City Watch first became suspicious that Chalky the Troll was a drugs smuggler for the Breccia when he registered the company name "Hollow Statue Imports".
- Intelligence (2006): The protagonist has many front companies, including a shipyard and a lumber business, but his favorite is a strip club called the Chick-A-Dee.
- Although they're a motorcycle gang rather than the Italian mob, SAMCRO in Sons of Anarchy uses this trope in the exact same fashion. Everybody knows what they do for a living, but whenever they're accused of being a biker gang by law enforcement officers, they'll assert that they're just a club of Harley enthusiasts. Most of the members are employees of the Teller & Morrow Autobody Shop which is a legitimate business attached to their club house. However, it is clear that it does not get much business (customers tend to be discouraged by too much gunfire) and cannot fund their lifestyle on its own.
- In Dharma and Greg, the parents once jointly bought a boat from a friend of Larry's who would soon be needing a lawyer more than a boat. The name of the boat? Innocent Fishing Boat.
- Marvel's Netflix shows:
- Luke Cage: Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes has a number of fronts to his name, including real estate holdings, and his nightclub Harlem's Paradise. Harlem's Paradise is enough of a money-spinner that Cottonmouth could still remain afloat even after losing his other criminal assets.
- In season 1, Wilson Fisk owns a number of legitimate companies and shell companies to hide the source of his income, investing in real estate and construction.
- The Hand in season 2 are hiding behind the face of Asano, Japanese branch of the Roxxon Corporation.
- The Hairy Ape: Subverted — Yank goes to a meeting of the Industrial Workers of the World, expecting it to be a front for an organization that achieves its goals by blowing things up. The people there assume that he is a government spy trying to entrap their genuinely legitimate organization when he approaches them, and kick him out.
- Sam & Max has Ted E. Bear's Mafia-free Playland And Casino. Complete with a horribly catchy theme song.
"N-O-M-A-F-I-A! Oh baby..."
- The rabbit hole lot type generically known as "abandoned warehouse" in The Sims 3 is the base for the Criminal career. Specific varieties of this building include two examples of this trope: "Outstanding Citizen Warehouse Corp." (found in Sunset Valley, Riverview, Barnacle Bay, and Hidden Springs), and "Good Guys, Inc." (the Italian-themed equivalent unique to Monte Vista).
- In The Godfather: The Game, one suspects that the various families would conceal their businesses better if they didn't post guards around it who smack their fists into the other open palm every time they see you come near. Or outright open fire indiscriminately if your Vendetta with that family is high enough.
- Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver: The Team Rocket Base has a sign proclaiming its innocence. It also has a discolored tree with highly visible antennae sticking out of the top. And the shopkeeper keeps telling you that the breeze coming from that mysterious gigantic box in the middle of the shop is just your imagination, and is not coming from any hidden hideout anywhere. It doesn't help that he says it every single time you try to buy stuff from him.
"Don't look behind the poster! There's no hidden switch behind it!"
- Parodied when Team Rocket is driven away and the legitimate owner comes back...and the whistling noise doesn't stop, because she's old and her dentures don't fit right.
- The first generation of games had the Rocket Game Corner, with the entrance to the Elaborate Underground Base below it behind a poster guarded by a guy in full Team Rocket uniform! Lampshaded by one of civilians you encounter in Celadon City:
- The Game Corner in Veilstone is space-themed, is located in the same place as Team Galactic's headquarters, and features Team Galactic symbols as counterparts to triple 7's. In fact, the only Game Corner that wasn't once or is an example of this trope was in Hoenn. Which makes you wonder why exactly people thought the Game Corner was promoting gambling. (Admittedly, it's not like the kids would realize that.)
- In Pizza Tycoon, you can order sabotage devices/weapons from stores which claim to sell "joke articles" and "ice cream", respectively. But if you try to buy weapons openly, they'll tell the police, and prison ensues.
- In KGB, Progressive Enthusiast Club is a bar filled with bums and criminals, which is actually a front for Snuff Film studio protected by corrupt KGB agents. They also use nearby meat shop to hide corpses of their victims, though unlike many versions, they do not sell human meat there.
- In Persona 2, the Zodiac Club is run by the Masquerade, a cult with Zodiac-themed names for its members. In the sequel, the club falls under the ownership of the Taiwanese mob.
- The NES game Nightshade has the Pyramid Club, reflecting the Big Bad's fixation on ancient Egypt. There's also an all-girl ninja gang that runs the clothing boutique and a restaurant ("Chopsticks and Ninja Stars").
- In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the Thieves' Guild and the Camonna Tong both own various taverns and clubs in the major cities that are used as guild halls, and talking to anyone on the street makes it obvious that their function is an Open Secret. (Justified in that it gives them Plausible Deniability and having their guild halls actually be secret would be bad for business since clients wouldn't be able to find them.) Averted by the Morag Tong, since despite being assassins, their existence is perfectly legal and they have no need to hide their presence (except for their headquarters in Vivec, which is extremely well hidden).
- In the X-Universe series, it's an Open Secret that the Teladi Company either cooperates or turns a blind eye to the local Space Pirates; their sweatshop shipyards apparently sell directly to the pirates - as (modified) Teladi ships make up the bulk of pirate squads - Teladi police generally do not engage pirates, and bounty hunters who destroy pirates do not receive recognition for it.
- At the beginning of one of the Burger Barn levels in Cake Mania 4: Main Street Jack mentions a gentleman called Don Carlos who's come to make him an offer. When the level finishes...
Jack: This is great! I'll be providing catering for Mr. Carlos' exclusive social club, the "Legitimate Business Establishment."
- In the Slaughterhouse heist in PAYDAY 2, you can find shipping containers labelled "Legitimate Business Ltd."
- In Star Citizen, Drake Interplanetary produces ships with features very enticing for aspiring Space Pirates. Drake insists that the extra armor, extra large cargo holds and radar intercept stations are for militias and search and rescue. Even their Space Trucker offering has boosted armor, additional weapons, and an extra large cargo hold for "search and rescue". Their ship naming system certain doesn't help, with names like Cutlass, Marauder, Privateer.
- Kingdom of Loathing has a Penguin Mafia. They run The Raffle House and Uncle P's Antiques, both which are "legitimate establishments".
- In City of Heroes, Mafia Expy "The Family" has a pizza chain. Billboards advertise "Made Fresh. By Made Men." Which is most likely a shout-out or homage to Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash for his Cosa Nostra Pizza, Uncle Enzo and the world's most brutal 30-minutes or less delivery guarantee.
- In World of Warcraft, the Warlock Trainers in the human city of Stormwind pose as a seedy bar named "The Slaughtered Lamb", in the middle of the magic district. While they are not criminals in the more traditional sense of the word, their demon-summoning activities are forbidden in Stormwind. Not that the guards have any problem with the players running around with their demon familiars in plain sight.
- The Umbrella Corporation from the Resident Evil is this full stop. Posing as Pharmaceutical Company. What they really deal with is Bio Organic Weapons.
- Ghostbusters: The Video Game: Ivo Shandor ran a club out of the Natural History Museum. Naturally, it was a front for the Cult of Gozer's rituals.
- Discussed in the Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day episode of We Hate Movies; the commenters mock the fan hysteria which arises around the mob murders committed by the protagonists by pointing out that most people have little interest in mobster-on-mobster crime and violence in the real world and, unless they have mob connections or are involved in sketchy mob-related business, will usually only encounter the mob after accidentally entering a mob-owned coffee shop that never seems to have any coffee.
- Problem Sleuth: Mobster Kingpin's front for his speakeasy and other operations is the LEGITIMATE ESTABLISHMENT.
- In Aki Alliance there are two rival gangs, the "Girl Gang" and... "The Legitimate Business Club".
- Lackadaisy featured the cast working in a small café which in no way had any sort of illegal underground speakeasy. Nope.
- In Cinema Snob Reviews Frozen (a fan comic where The Cinema Snob reviews Frozen), Snob says Oaken doesn't like being called a crook, because he's is a "legitimate businessman".
- The Simpsons
- The Trope Namer is Fat Tony's hideout. They have a softball team and "family" picnics.
- In the episode where Fat Tony's son appeared, the front is "Waste Management".
- The Simpsons also has the Ancient Society of No-Homers, which meets at an old Baskin-Robbins with a marquee reading "Abandoned Store".
- Also, in "Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment", Moe's Tavern becomes a speakeasy when prohibition is declared in Springfield, and changes its name to "Moe's Pet Shop". The true purpose of the place is obvious, but fortunately for Moe, Rex Banner - the guy in charge of enforcing the law - is just as stupid as Wiggum. (Maybe even more so; unlike Wiggum, Rex can't be bribed, but he still can't solve crimes worth squat.)
- The Trope Namer is Fat Tony's hideout. They have a softball team and "family" picnics.
Donbot: "Perhaps you'd care to join us later, at our... social club."Bender: "Nah, I'd rather plan some felonies."Donbot: "Oh. In that case, we should meet at our Mafia crime headquarters instead."
- Bender was very disappointed to learn that the League of Robots is very legitimate and hasn't killed a human in centuries. (And that was a pretty sick Girl Scout.)
- The Robot Mafia, which is based in a meat store called "Fronty's Meat Market: Not a front since 2437". They also run "Small Bill's Laundering".
- A subversion also appears in "Bender Gets Made," in which it appears that the Robot Mafia really are members of a legitimate club:
- Family Guy: The Mafia do their dealings in the "Pet Store. That's it, pet store." All of the "pets" are cardboard cut outs, and people regularly order "bunnies" in both 12 gauge and semiautomatic (the cops have it bugged).
"Whatever sort of 'bunny' you think would be best for shooting a guy in the head."
- Parodied/subverted/etc in one Bugs Bunny cartoon, where Bugs torments a couple of crooks, and finishes up by erecting a huge sign on the side of their hideout. The police find the two crooks in no time.
- Played with in The Fairly Oddparents: Fairy mobsters actually do manage waste. Big Daddy's (Wanda's father) company even has the slogan "A Legitimate Business!"
- The infamous Kray brothers of London ran several legitimate night clubs which let them mingle with celebrities. Some of the celebrities were prominent politicians who ran interference for the Krays for a number of years, until their criminal activities became so open and notorious that nobody could get away with defending them any more.
- Al Capone was officially an antiques dealer. He even owned an antique shop. However, most people, including the police and the press, knew what he really was, but could not arrest him for anything worse than tax evasion.
- For much of his career as a major player in Los Angeles organized crime, Mickey Cohen worked out of a men's clothing shop and referred to himself as a haberdasher.
- The Japanese Yakuza gangs stand in an interesting contrast to this trope: they are in no way secret societies, and openly maintain offices. Members may even have business cards. That being said, the Yakuza are known for referring to themselves as "ninkyō dantai", literally "chivalrous organizations."
- This only refers to the direct, overt yakuza organizations themselves - there are tons of fronts, shell companies, associates who exist on a spectrum from real hardcore yakuza to victims making payoffs to survive either literally or in regard to their careers, and many, many other "connections" or "affiliations" or "friends," especially with tightening organized crime laws. Anything from a record label to a restaurant can be a yakuza front now. And that doesn't even count how deeply connected the yakuza is to the government, the police themselves, and the right-wing conservatives in Japan...
- Dean O'Banion ran a floral shop in addition to his bootlegging operation. He was evidently a pretty good florist, and seemed to have as much of a passion for flowers as he did for crime. Admittedly, many of his customers were mobsters, but it wasn't a money laundering business. He was just good with flowers, and they knew him.
- Whenever a high-ranking Chicago mobster was killed, O'Banion's shop sold lots of flowers to the funeral home. He made a killing.
- Chinese-American (and -Canadian) gangs called "Tongs" literally translate to "social club". Some tongs have actually reformed and become actual civic-minded organizations.
- Former Gambino boss Paul Castellano had at one point launched a poultry business called "Dial Poultry" (based on Castellano's background as a meat butcher); which supplied poultry to several New York City grocery chains. While technically legitimate, Castellano would not hesitate to resort to various forms of intimidation to convince the "customers" to carry the poultry. Part of this was that Castellano fancied himself more of a "legitimate businessman"; and while some businesses he ran did technically become legitimate, the intimidation tactics and the Mob ties helped ensure their success.
- John Gotti maintained two of these establishments: the Ravenite and the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club.
- Former Genovese boss Vincent "Chin" Gigante and his crew was based out of the Triangle Social Club in Greenwich Village, while Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano of the Bonanno family based his crew out of The Motion Lounge nightclub in Williamsburg.