In its hey day, the brand was said to have been frequented by celebrities such as Bing Crosby, Clark Gable, and Vivien Leigh.
23 Restaurant Services is staging a comeback for Don the Beachcomber.
The Tampa-based hospitality company acquired the tiki-themed restaurant brand last year, adding to a portfolio that includes Ford’s Garage, Tiki Docks, and Yeoman’s Cask and Lion.
Don the Beachcomber was founded in the 1930s by Donn Beach (born Ernest Raymond Gantt). It was the first prototypical tiki bar. Known for its extensive menu of cocktails and Chinese-American-influenced dishes, the brand expanded its national footprint in the proceeding decades, eventually reaching 16 locations from coast to coast at its height. The concept was said to have been frequented by well-known celebrities Bing Crosby, Clark Gable, and Vivien Leigh.
The last location closed in 2018, in Huntington Beach, California.
Now, two Don the Beachcomber restaurants and bars are under development in Central Florida. The first is slated to open by the end of the year. Marc Brown, president of 23 Restaurant Services, expects the brand will grow to 10-15 locations across the Southeastern U.S. over the next several years. After that, he plans to set his sights on national expansion.
The new restaurants will feature the eccentric, Polynesian-inspired design and tropical drinks that became synonymous with Don the Beachcomber, which Brown calls “the most iconic brand in tiki history.” The brand’s founder is credited with creating dozens of rum-based drinks, including the Zombie, the PiYi, the Missionary’s Downfall, the Navy Grog, and the Tahitian Rum Punch, to name a few.
“Beach’s legacy lives on in the modern tiki renaissance,” Brown said in a statement. “If not for him, tiki wouldn’t be the delightfully escapist, rum-soaked movement it is today.”
The expansion will be supported by a board consisting of influential voices in tiki culture, including John Mulder, owner of Eekum Bookum Tiki Mugs; Martin Cate, author of “Smuggler’s Cove” and owner of the bar by the same name; and Danny “Tiki Diablo” Gallardo, a designer of tiki carvings, ceramic cocktail mugs, and tiki bar interiors. Rounding out the newly assembled board are tiki historians Tim “Swanky” Glazner and Sven Kirsten.
Marie King, former beverage director and general manager of Tonga Hut in Hollywood, also is joining 23 Restaurant Services as director of beverages.
“Assembling this dynamic and legendary group of experts to serve as our advisory board was the first step in developing a plan to share and represent the history and life of Don the Beachcomber with the utmost authenticity,” Brown said. “We could not be more excited to share the work we are doing together to bring Don the Beachcomber back to life.”
23 Restaurant Services currently operates 21 restaurants across Florida, including 16 Ford’s Garage locations.