Friday, 13 April 2012

Don the Beachcomber - A Founding Father of Tiki Culture - Self Help - Advice

Those who know tiki know Don the Beachcomber restaurants. His restaurants popped up around the country at the very beginning of tiki craze, and were among the most popular tiki-themed bars and restaurants in the nation. In fact, he has been called the founding father of tiki restaurants, and today the style of most Polynesian or tiki-themed restaurants is a direct descendant from his creations. Who was Don the Beachcomber?

Born Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt in Texas in 1907, he left home at the age of nineteen to travel around the world on his own. In these trips he visited countless islands in the Caribbean and in the South Pacific, surely the inspiration he would later draw upon for his tiki-style restaurants. As the legend goes, he was a bootlegger during prohibition before settling in Hollywood, where he opened the Don's Beachcomber bar in 1934. It was followed by the very first Don the Beachcomber restaurant in 1937. Built during the later years of the Depression, this escape from everyday life quickly gained popularity, especially with the Hollywood elite.

Don the Beachcomber restaurants were known not only for their unique ambience, but also for the drinks, strong rum cocktails served at a distinctively decorated bar. There, Don the Beachcomber created Tahitian Rum Punch, Navy Grog, The Zombie, and other cocktails that are now well-known. A competitor's attempt to copy his Zombie rum cocktail was even served during the 1939 New York World's Fair. He also claimed to have created the Mai Tai, though his claim was disputed by Victor Bergeron, founder of the competing Trader Vic's tiki-style restaurant chain, who also claimed to have created the drink. In all, Don the Beachcomber is said to have concocted over 80 unique drink recipes.

At Don the Beachcomber's restaurant, diners ate what seemed like exotic cuisines. In actuality, they ate standard Cantonese and other Asian dishes served with flair. It is widely believed that the first "pu pu platter" (Polynesian-style appetizer plate) was probably served at a Don the Beachcomber restaurant.

Don the Beachcomber, then still known as Gantt, served in the United States Army during World War II. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star while serving in Italy. While Gannt was serving in the war, his restaurants flourished. Under his wife's management, the single Don the Beachcomber restaurant was transformed into a chain with 16 locations. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the tiki fad gave his restaurants a tremendous burst of popularity, and Don the Beachcomber restaurants opened nationwide. Besides the popular restaurant chain, he also opened a "Polynesian Village" at his ranch in Encino, California, where he entertained Hollywood celebrities.

Once his restaurants became popular, many people began calling him Don the Beachcomber. As a result, he changed his name several times, from Donn Beach-Comber to Donn Beachcomber. He finally settled on the name Donn Beach, and eventually divorced his wife and moved to Hawaii, where he founded the International Marketplace in Honolulu. He passed away in Honolulu in 1989 at the age of 81.

No comments:

Post a Comment