Following a flurry of activity in April that included the removal of the 50-year-old Bora Bora building, the non-stop work over the past two months was less flamboyant but just as crucial in the multimillion-dollar restoration of the historic Mai-Kai restaurant in South Florida.
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SEE BELOW: Chronology of work | Timeline and permits
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By early July, significant infrastructure work was moving at a rapid pace. A complete electrical system overhaul was underway, including the installation of new breaker boxes that will pave the way for a new air-conditioning system.
A half dozen new “fresh air units” were being lifted onto the roof by crane. This modern HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system replaces the decades-old chiller system that included the now-demolished cooling tower behind the Bora Bora building
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Once the new electrical grid is operational and they flip the switch on the new AC system, the entire building will be cooled for the first time since the October 2020 roof collapse that triggered the restaurant’s closing and eventual sale in September 2021.
The expansive refurbishments are being driven by the new ownership team led by historic preservationist Bill Fuller. His real estate investment firm, Barlington Group, has a track record of restoring vintage properties, including Miami’s iconic Ball & Chain.
The Little Havana hotspot is run by sister company Mad Room Hospitality, which will also take the operational reins at The Mai-Kai. The founding Thornton family, which remains part of the ownership group, will retain a significant role along with some of its long-standing management team.
To make The Mai-Kai operational by a projected fall reopening, Mad Room and Mai-Kai managers are working feverishly to get a new kitchen up and running. The old kitchen was damaged beyond repair when torrential rains combined with a malfunctioning sprinkler system flooded the 1970s-era back-of-house roof, causing it to collapse.
The 7,000-square-foot space where the kitchen once stood remains an empty shell with walls but no roof, awaiting Phase 2 of the renovation project. Estimated to be completed a year or more after Phase 1, this ambitious plan includes not only a new state-of-the-art kitchen, but also a 3,500-square-foot event center with a soaring A-frame roof. It will fill a much-needed niche in servicing The Mai-Kai’s market for large groups and events.
In the meantime, the existing back of house area that escaped damage is being reconfigured to accommodate a new, temporary kitchen. It will also be upgraded to include new staff facilities and a new restroom for guests with special needs.
Last but not least, The Mai-Kai’s legendary back service bar will be reinstalled in a large space that formerly contained a locker room for staff and performers in the Polynesian Islander Revue, the oldest continually-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States (including Hawaii). Smaller locker rooms are being built next to the existing back management offices, which are undergoing minimal refurbishments.
Below is a chronological recap of all the infrastructure work that has happened since the Bora Bora Room’s removal in April.