Minimalist Tiki

BREAKING NEWS: Don the Beachcomber announces new bar concept, three upcoming locations in Florida

Riding a wave of success following the February opening of the first of many new Don the Beachcomber restaurants, the team behind the ambitious brand re-launch took the stage at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando earlier this month to offer a sneak preview of new locations planned for Florida.

The presentation before hundreds of faithful fans gathered in an expansive ballroom at the Caribe Royale Resort did not disappoint, revealing new details about the flagship restaurant that will be built just a stone’s throw from Walt Disney World. Parent company 23 Restaurant Services also broke the news of a new “brand within a brand” dubbed the Gantt Reserve Collection from Don the Beachcomber.

The new Don the Beachcomber bar concept was unveiled at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The new Don the Beachcomber bar concept was unveiled at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Jump to more below:
* Full coverage of Tiki-a-Go-Go presentation
NEW: Renderings, plans for Orlando restaurant revealed
* Gantt Reserve Collection bars introduced
NEW: Upcoming South Florida location uncovered
* The Donn of Tiki makes a splash at Florida Film Festival
* Donn Beach biography expected next spring

This smaller, more bar-centric concept will be rolled out much faster than the 300-seat restaurant in Madeira Beach or the even larger one planned for the Orlando area. If the build-out goes according to plan, guests will be enjoying elevated Don the Beachcomber cocktails at Gantt Reserve Collection bars in Tampa this summer, then Plantation in southeast Florida in the fall.

We also learned that the Don the Beachcomber in Hamlin (opening in summer 2025) will feature not only views of the nightly fireworks at the Magic Kingdom, but also another Gantt Reserve Collection bar tucked inside, speakeasy style. Our full recap below will include details on these projects, new custom mugs, plus more information gathered after Tiki-a-Go-Go.

Modern Caribbean Rum
Justin Peterson (right) introduces the participants in the 'Don the Beachcomber Returns!" panel at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024. From left: John Mulder, Sven Kirsten, Marc Brown, Marie King, and Tim Glazner. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Justin Peterson (right) introduces the participants in the ‘Don the Beachcomber Returns!” panel at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024. From left: John Mulder, Sven Kirsten, Marc Brown, Marie King, and Tim Glazner. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Don the Beachcomber presentation caps first annual Tiki event in Orlando

The juxtaposition was intentional. The inaugural Tiki-a-Go-Go kicked off April 5 with a panel discussion on the restoration and reopening of The Mai-Kai, Florida’s historic Tiki temple that will soon return from a nearly four-year slumber. The daily programming wrapped up 30 hours later with a presentation on another legendary brand that recently re-launched in the Sunshine State with bold expansion plans.

The April 6 panel Don the Beachcomber Returns! was hosted by 23 Restaurant Services creative director Justin Peterson and featured company President Marc Brown, beverage director Marie King, author Tim “Swanky” Glazner, historian Sven Kirsten, and Eekum Bookum mug master John Mulder.

Before unveiling the news on planned openings, the group discussed the flawless debut of the first new restaurant and bar based on the legacy of Donn Beach, who kick-started the Tiki bar craze in 1932 with his groundbreaking speakeasy in Hollywood, Calif. His influence is still felt today with a new wave of tropical cocktail bars around the world paying him respect, inspiring a new film and upcoming book.

Bartenders set up for the grand opening of the Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach on Feb. 23, 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Bartenders set up for the grand opening of the Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach on Feb. 23, 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

After acquiring the rights to the Don the Beachcomber name, Tampa-based 23 Restaurant Services opened the first location in Madeira Beach on Feb. 23. The company’s other brands include Ford’s Garage, Yeoman’s Top Golf Swing Suite, and Tiki Docks.
Review & photos: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success

Peterson praised King and Jennifer Paci, director of new restaurant openings, for the smooth debut. “The food and drinks are just immaculate,” he said. He also gave a shout-out to the the artists who built the interior, notably Daniel “Tiki Diablo” Gallardo, Patrick Vassar, Tom Fowner, and Dave “Basement Kahuna” Wolfe.

King said she designed the cocktail menu based on historic Don the Beachcomber recipes, adding her own spin where appropriate: “I had the daunting privilege of re-creating a Don the Beachcomber menu with the mindset of ‘What would Donn do today?’ ” King is a veteran manager and bartender with decades of experience in the California scene, including a stint at the last Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach as well as 11 years at the venerable Tonga Hut in Los Angeles and Palm Springs.

The challenge in Florida, she explained, is introducing a beach/tourist crowd to a style of cocktails they may not be familiar with. So she tries to ease them in with lighter offerings, such as a Frosé featuring rum and rosé. “Donn didn’t have tequila drinks on his menu, but I think that today he would have reinvented his philosophy and brought in some tequila drinks,” King said. “So we do that as well.”

Marie King talks about her experience as beverage director for the new Don the Beachcomber restaurants during Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando on April 6. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Marie King talks about her experience as beverage director for the new Don the Beachcomber restaurants during Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando on April 6. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Another hurdle that took King out of her comfort zone was training the large, mostly inexperienced, staff on the nuances of Don the Beachcomber and Tiki culture. “We taught them who Donn was, who Sunny (Sund) was, what the business was, Hawaii, L.A., Chicago, the Mob, everything,” King said.

The training included everyone “from dishwasher to host,” utilizing the systems that Paci and 23 Restaurant Services employ to ensure a well-versed staff. “Everyone you come into contact with has a little bit of knowledge about what the legacy means,” King said. “You as the guests should feel like you’ve just walked into a Don the Beachcomber under their tutelage.”

But King’s most intense training was saved for her young bartenders, who she lovingly calls her “kittens.” She said she spent three days of boot camp “before any other soul walked in the building” with just the bartenders. “We did drills, we did mock service.” The end result speaks for itself, as many have corroborated.

Sven Kirsten speaks during the Don the Beachcomber presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go about his experience at the new Madeira Beach location. Seated on the panel are Marc Brown (left), Marie King, and Tim Glazner. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / April 6, 2024)
Sven Kirsten speaks during the Don the Beachcomber presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go about his experience at the new Madeira Beach location. Seated on the panel are Marc Brown (left), Marie King, and Tim Glazner. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / April 6, 2024)

“I was blown away,” said Kirsten, who visited the Madeira Beach restaurant for the first time just three days earlier. “It’s in a very nondescript building, and in that way it really fulfills the purpose of being an escape. You step from a mundane world into this incredible escapist space.” Kirsten literally wrote the book on this topic. His influential contributions to the culture include The Book of Tiki and Tiki Pop.

Kirsten was also impressed with the packed house and the eclectic crowd, which he said was comprised of many families with “little tykes having a great time.” He added with a laugh: “It wasn’t just you Tiki nerds.”

“That’s what Tiki needs,” he continued. “It needs everybody to get into the act. It was wonderful to see that in Madeira Beach.”

Mulder added to that topic, talking about a recent visit with his granddaughter. She loved the non-alcoholic drinks and the desserts, while he was also enamored by the environment. “The decor is perfect,” said the creator of the signature Legend Returns mug. “It’s really immersive. You really feel like you’re in a Tiki bar. I was really, really impressed.”

An image shared at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024 shows new Rum Barrel mugs from Don the Beachcomber and Tiki Farm. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
An image shared at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024 shows new Rum Barrel mugs from Don the Beachcomber and Tiki Farm. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Peterson took the opportunity to reveal some new mug designs expected to roll out in Madeira Beach and elsewhere in the coming months. You can also expect to find them in the online store, Shop.DonBeachcomber.com.

By popular demand, the first to arrive will be a classic Rum Barrel mug, currently in production by Tiki Farm. Peterson said they hope to have them in hand by July, just in time for Tiki Oasis.

The creative director also showed off his first Don the Beachcomber mug design, based on his new signature logo of Donn Beach’s profile. He said he wanted it to be different than the other mugs created over the years inspired by Beach’s likeness.

Attendees at the 'Don the Beachcomber Returns!' presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go on April 6 got a peek at Justin Peterson's concept art for a new mug, along with the sculpt by Tiki Farm. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Attendees at the ‘Don the Beachcomber Returns!’ presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go on April 6 got a peek at Justin Peterson’s concept art for a new mug, along with the sculpt by Tiki Farm. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The audience saw slides featuring Peterson’s conceptual artwork as well as photos of the sculpt created by Tiki Farm. The final glaze will have a matte finish that looks like wood, he said. The lei and flower will be pink and yellow, respectively, and the logo will be white.

Peterson called it “a dream come true to have a mug with my name slapped on the bottom of it,” adding that he’s hoping for a late summer release.

Also touted were several mug collaborations with noted Tiki artists. Big Toe is designing a bowl that Peterson said is as intricate as Mulder’s Legend Returns mug. Mitchell Spain Ceramics, which has perfected a method of creating what looks like rust on ceramics, is making “vintage style tumblers” that may be ready in time for The Hukilau in June. Also in the pipeline is a mug from Taboo Relics, due later this year or early next year.

Renderings, plans for Orlando restaurant revealed

The highlight of the Don the Beachcomber Returns! presentation April 6 at Tiki-a-Go-Go was the discussion and details on the new locations expected to open over the next several years. The excitement level was high, not just because of the historic nature of the news. Many attendees live not far from ground zero of the expansion in Florida.

An updated rendering of the new Don the Beachcomber restaurant planned for the Orlando area, revealed April 6 during a presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
An updated rendering of the new Don the Beachcomber restaurant planned for the Orlando area, revealed April 6 during a presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

First on the agenda was the previously announced build-out planned for Hamlin Town Center, just north of Disney World, which has moved up on the schedule slightly to summer 2025. “We plan to break ground relatively soon,” said Peterson, the creative director. “When that opens, it will be the crown jewel in our collection.”

Architectural renderings were first revealed last August at Tiki Oasis, along with concept sketches by Tiki Diablo. Several of these images were also shared on the official website.

“Danny has done a good job trying to visualize what the inside is going to look like,” Peterson said. At Tiki-a-Go-Go, we also saw several updated renderings of the outside. Peterson said it will be a “beautiful building with plenty of outdoor space for live music and live events.”

An architectural rendering of the upcoming Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hamlin, revealed at the Tiki-a-Go-Go event, shows the outdoor patio and lakeside deck that will face south toward Disney World. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
An architectural rendering of the upcoming Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hamlin, revealed at the Tiki-a-Go-Go event, shows the outdoor patio and lakeside deck that will face south toward Disney World. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Peterson also displayed a map to show how close the restaurant will be to Disney World. He said the site is less than 10 miles from Disney property, equating to a 15- to 25-minute drive, depending on traffic.

The south-facing outdoor patio will allow guests to see the nightly fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. “It’s going to be something really special,” Peterson said.

A site map was displayed showing the area of the Horizons West planned development where Don the Beachcomber will be built on the shore of Lake Hancock. A movie theater and a Publix supermarket are nearby, along with one of 19 Ford’s Garage locations in Florida owned and operated by 23 Restaurant Services.

During a presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go, Don the Beachcomber creative director Justin Peterson points out the waterfront location of the restaurant that will be built in Hamlin, just north of Disney World. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, April 2024)
During a presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go, Don the Beachcomber creative director Justin Peterson points out the waterfront location of the restaurant that will be built in Hamlin, just north of Disney World. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, April 2024)

Two weeks before Tiki-a-Go-Go, exterior renderings and site plans requested by Orange County were posted on the Horizon West News & Info website. The site provides official news and information on Horizon West development to residents and potential residents.

The renderings “showcase an open and welcoming environment, highlighting the shoreline of Lake Hancock, furthering the tiki ambiance of Don the Beachcomber,” according to the story posted March 19. The plans are still in the early stages of permitting, it notes. The images from the article are shared below.

Don the Beachcomber in Hamlin: Updated renderings and site plan
Source: Horizonwestinfo.com

Gantt Reserve Collection will accelerate Don the Beachcomber expansion

The plans for the flagship location in Hamlin are impressive, but the biggest surprises of the Orlando presentation were unveiled when Brown, the 23 Restaurant Services president, introduced a new initiative involving the Don the Beachcomber brand.

Brown prefaced the news with some background on the company’s plans for brand, which originally focused on “building great Don the Beachcomber restaurants that would be … something that Donn would be proud of.” With the help of an advisory board – which includes Glazner, Gallardo, Kirsten, Mulder, and others – they tried to imagine how Beach would build his restaurants if he was here today.

“We wanted them to be full-service restaurants with an incredible drink program,” Brown said. They achieved that in Madeira Beach, he said, where reviews “have been off-the-charts good, both from people in the Tiki community and people outside the Tiki community. They’re loving our food, they’re loving our drinks, they feel the value is good.”

A slide shown at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024 promotes the opening of the flagship Don the Beachcomber restaurant. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
A slide shown at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024 promotes the opening of the flagship Don the Beachcomber restaurant. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

This was an important achievement, he said, since they were investing so much in the even bigger Hamlin location. “We have to make sure we’re delivering on all those things,” he said.

“We’re very excited to continue to build full-service restaurants that way,” Brown said. But he and his team kept coming back to their initial research gathered after buying the brand almost two years ago.

In traveling to Tiki bars around the country, they found that many are small and have little or no food. “They’re really big on the experience, the escapism, which was also big to Donn,” Brown said.

Brown said they tried to come up with a way to “continue to build Don the Beachcomber restaurants with a Polynesian-style food menu and incredible tropical drinks, exactly like the way Donn would have done it,” but also create smaller, bar-forward spaces.

A floor plan for the 10,000-square-foot Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hamlin, shared during a presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
A floor plan for the 10,000-square-foot Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hamlin, shared during a presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

“We decided that we wanted to create another brand within the brand,” Brown said. “We’re going to have our full-service Don the Beachcomber restaurants, but then we’re going to have another collection of restaurants that are all going to be unique and different, and elevate even higher the level and quality of the cocktails.”

With that, Brown introduced the Gantt Reserve Collection, which pays tribute to Donn Beach’s given name, Ernest Raymond Gantt. “Every one of these is going to be unique and themed differently,” he said. “They’re not necessarily going to be Beachcomber themed.”

That doesn’t mean they won’t follow the same standards, Brown added. He used the words “elevated” and “intimate” to describe the experience, adding that they want these small lounges to be something Beach would approve of if he were here.

While the Hamlin restaurant will be more than 10,000 square feet, “the first Gantt Reserve Collection restaurant is about 1,800 square feet and it’s pretty much just a bar,” Brown said.

A floor plan shared at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando shows the footprint of the main dining room at the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hamlin, scheduled to open next summer. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / April 6, 2024)
A floor plan shared at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando shows the footprint of the main dining room at the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hamlin, scheduled to open next summer. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / April 6, 2024)

“We’re going to build these ourselves,” he said of the initial plans. “But as we evolve the Gantt Reserve Collection, we’re open to doing joint ventures with people and allowing them to create their own designs.”

This approach will allow 23 Restaurant Services to expand the Don the Beachcomber brand across the country faster than it could by itself, Brown said. “This is going to be an opportunity for us to network with great bar owners and artists within the community.”

This is an important point that came up during the Q&A session after the presentation, when someone asked when Brown plans to expand to the Northeast. A native or Rhode Island, he said he’d love to bring the brand there. “It’s an area we want to get to,” he said. “We just don’t know when.”

The outdoor patio at the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hamlin, shown at Tiki-a-Go-Go on April 6, will offer lakefront views. Magic Kingdom fireworks will be visible in the distance. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The outdoor patio at the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hamlin, shown at Tiki-a-Go-Go on April 6, will offer lakefront views. Magic Kingdom fireworks will be visible in the distance. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Brown also mentioned Chicago, where he recently visited and where Don the Beachcomber has a deep history. He said he saw some opportunities for possibly bringing the brand there.

“We want to be everywhere with this brand,” Brown said. “It was important to us when we acquired it that we can bring it back to the whole country, and potentially internationally. So there’s a lot that’s going to come. I ask that everyone be a little patient. It’s tough getting all these going.”

During the presentation, he and Peterson enthusiastically shared the plans for the first three Gantt Reserve Collection locations. In chronological order, they are:

Marc Brown, president of 23 Restaurant Services, shows a recent photo of the build-out of the first Gantt Reserve Collection bar in Tampa during a presentation on the Don the Beachcomber brand at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / April 6, 2024)
Marc Brown, president of 23 Restaurant Services, shows a recent photo of the build-out of the first Gantt Reserve Collection bar in Tampa during a presentation on the Don the Beachcomber brand at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / April 6, 2024)

MORGAN’S COVE (Tampa) – Located next to Yeoman’s Topgolf Swing Suite, a British restaurant concept owned by 23 Restaurant Services, this first Gantt Reserve Collection bar will be a “speakeasy style” location with only about 50 seats between the bar and lounge area in its 1,800 square feet. It’s already under construction and is expected to open early this summer.

“We’re very, very excited about this,” said Brown, who showed a photo of the interior being built out. “The bar has been framed out, the flooring has been put in,” he said. Gallardo will be coming in a few weeks to “give it the Tiki Diablo touch.”

The theme will honor Tampa’s rich history of pirates, Brown said. The name is based on the location’s Morgan Street address, but it also infers a connection to the infamous captain. (The street is actually named for a Revolutionary War hero, Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan.)

Morgan's Cove, the first Gantt Reserve Collection bar from 23 Restaurant Services, is expected to open early this summer, company President Marc Brown announced at Tiki-a-Go-Go. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / April 6, 2024)
Morgan’s Cove, the first Gantt Reserve Collection bar from 23 Restaurant Services, is expected to open early this summer, company President Marc Brown announced at Tiki-a-Go-Go. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / April 6, 2024)

The Gasparilla Pirate Festival, which dates back to 1904, draws more than 300,000 people to the city to honor mythical pirate Jose Gaspar. Considered to be one of the country’s largest and most unique outdoor celebrations, it begins with the world’s only fully-rigged pirate ship sailing into Tampa Bay. The 2025 fest is set for Jan. 25.

King later elaborated on the theming, explaining that it won’t be a stereotypical “pirate bar.” The beverage director said it will be centered around “mythical sea creatures” (think serpents and mermaids) and how every good pirate has a story about one that got away. Gallardo has some cool designs in store, she added.

TBD (Plantation) – With both a name and location unannounced, this second Gantt Reserve Collection bar nevertheless could open by September or October, Brown said. “We just signed a lease,” he said, adding that they’re “still working on the name.”

A new Gantt Reserve Collection bar is announced at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando on April 6 by Marc Brown, president of 23 Restaurant Services. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
A new Gantt Reserve Collection bar is announced at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando on April 6 by Marc Brown, president of 23 Restaurant Services. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

It’s currently in the design stages, he said, mentioning Gallardo’s idea of an “1800s clipper ships, nautical theme” since it’s close to Fort Lauderdale. It will be a little bit bigger than the Tampa bar at around 2,600 square feet, but it will not offer food, Brown said. We were later able to confirm the likely location (see below).

DAGGER BAR (Hamlin) – The loudest cheer of the entire presentation was spurred by the slide that showed this iconic name, which was originally used by Donn Beach at his famous International Market Place in Hawaii in the 1950s. The bar was named after a dagger Beach brought back from Italy during his service in World War II, a reproduction of an imperial Roman-style Puglia knife.

This modern-day Dagger Bar will be the first Gantt Reserve Collection bar located inside a Don the Beachcomber restaurant when the Orlando-area location opens in summer 2025. It will feature just 45 seats and have its own separate menu, Peterson said.

As revealed at Tiki-a-Go-Go, the Gantt Reserve Collection bar located inside the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hamlin will be named for one of Donn Beach's most famous locations. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / April 6, 2024)
As revealed at Tiki-a-Go-Go, the Gantt Reserve Collection bar located inside the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hamlin will be named for one of Donn Beach’s most famous locations. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / April 6, 2024)

King said that the cocktails at all the Gantt Reserve Collection bars are going to be “more elevated.” She said to expect more glassware, more ingredients made in-house, a more expansive menu, plus more classics.

“Each one of the Gantt Reserve Collection bars will have its own signature cocktails that you can only get at that bar,” King said. She also mentioned the idea of a passport that patrons could take to all the Gantt Reserve Collection bars and have stamped.

The idea of multiple types of bars and restaurants under the Don the Beachcomber banner is not new. Brown discussed a plan to have three distinctly different styles at Tiki Oasis in August. King talked about the cocktail-forward Tampa location and hinted at the speakeasy-style Dagger Bar during a live interview on YouTube in October.

The Dagger Bar will be tucked inside the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hamlin. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Dagger Bar will be tucked inside the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hamlin. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Now, these plans appear to be coming to fruition as the 23 Restaurant Services crew puts them into action. “The entire team is working very hard to do Donn and his legacy proud,” Peterson told the Tiki-a-Go-Go audience on April 6. “It’s not something we take lightly.”

“We look forward to seeing you out there with drinks in hand,” he added, a reference to that evening’s party in the same Caribe Royale Resort ballroom featuring live music and cocktails from Don the Beachcomber and The Mai-Kai, plus other bar teams.

Justin Peterson (left), Ryan Jones and Marie King behind their pop-up bar at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando on April 6, 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Justin Peterson (left), Ryan Jones and Marie King behind their pop-up bar at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando on April 6, 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

King was joined behind the pop-up bar by one of her “kittens,” Ryan Jones. They served her take on the Old Cuban, a modern-classic Daiquiri enhanced with mint, champagne and tobacco bitters. It was the perfect mash-up of old and new, sending the Tiki-a-Go-Go faithful off with high hopes for the future of the Don the Beachcomber brand.

Upcoming South Florida location uncovered

Returning to South Florida, we couldn’t help but seek out the mystery location of the new Gantt Reserve Collection bar in our backyard. Plantation is essentially a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, a small (population 96,000) city about 6 miles directly west in the center of Broward County.

It’s mainly a “bedroom community” known for shopping, dining and recreation. There are no major industries, but several large national companies have headquarters there, including Motorola. It’s easily accessible and close to several major highways (I-595, Florida’s Turnpike) as well as Fort Lauderdale International Airport.

The city has no downtown or bar/restaurant district per se, so we took the 23 Restaurant Services playbook into account and checked to see if there were any locations of their other brands in Plantation. The new Don the Beachcomber outposts in Tampa and Orlando are being built next to, or nearby, sister restaurants.

The dining room and bar at Ford's Garage at Plantation Walk in South Florida. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, April 2024)
The dining room and bar at Ford’s Garage at Plantation Walk in South Florida. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, April 2024)

Lo and behold, a Ford’s Garage restaurant opened in October in the Plantation Walk development. “We’re thrilled to bring Plantation its own Ford’s Garage,” Marc Brown, the 23 Restaurant Services president, was quoted as saying in a press release. “This is a great area with a lot of potential for growth, and we look forward to seeing the new restaurant thrive while providing a best-in-class meal and memorable dining experience to the community.”

The Ford’s Garage at 301 N. University Drive, #600, is company-owned and seats around 250 guests in a 7,500-square-foot dining room and 1,200-square-foot patio. It’s one of the newest locations of the brand, which was founded in 2012 and began franchising in 2015. Officially licensed by the Ford Motor Co., the restaurants use classic imagery and memorabilia to evoke the look and feel of a 1920s service station.

I visited the highly-themed restaurant, known for its burgers and craft beer, late one afternoon earlier this month. Everything I sampled was tasty, from the fried pickles to the wings to the draft beer (though I would like to see a larger selection of local brews). I was also pleasantly surprised by a spicy Margarita from the expansive bar. I’m tempted to return for their special Bourbon cocktails in honor of the Kentucky Derby.

The distinctive facade of Ford's Garage at Plantation Walk. At the far right, you can see the clock tower and building that contains a vacant corner space that could be a future Don the Beachcomber location. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, April 2024)
The distinctive facade of Ford’s Garage at Plantation Walk. At the far right, you can see the clock tower and building that contains a vacant corner space that could be a future Don the Beachcomber location. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, April 2024)

The restaurant is located on a prime corner in the middle of Plantation Walk, a 32-acre development that rose in 2019 on the old site of the Fashion Mall, which was vacant since it was damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Designed as a “live, work and play destination,” Plantation Walk is a $350 million mixed use project with 200,000-square-feet of retail, 700 luxury rental apartments, 177,000-square-feet of office space, and a renovated 263-room Sheraton hotel.

Aetna Inc. leases office space, and other current or future tenants include restaurants; a green market; a nail spa; fitness, wellness and massage; vet, dental and eye care; a barbershop; a car wash; an art gallery; an escape room; plus more. Six business are listed as “coming soon” in the directory, but there’s no mention of Don the Beachcomber.

The pandemic and resulting economic turmoil likely slowed down initial growth of the retail center, but it seems to be filling up fast now. Leaving Ford’s Garage on foot, I toured the area and spotted some empty storefronts nearby, including a distinctive corner spot right across the street. Many still had for-lease signs in their windows, but this one did not.

A site map for Plantation Walk shows Ford's Garage, plus the nearby vacant space where we were told 23 Restaurant Services recently signed a lease for a potential Don the Beachcomber speakeasy concept
A site map for Plantation Walk shows Ford’s Garage, plus the nearby vacant space where we were told 23 Restaurant Services recently signed a lease for a potential Don the Beachcomber speakeasy concept. Click for a full view.

Several sources, including the agent handling the leasing for Plantation Walk, told us that Brown and 23 Restaurant Services have a great deal of interest in this site. Bobby Albino, who works for developer Encore Capital Management, confirmed that a lease was signed for the two vacant spaces across from Ford’s Garage, #S5100 and #S5200.

On the official site map (also see image above), Ford’s is #S2600 (the orange building) while the likely site for the Gantt Reserve Collection bar is the corner space directly across the street (blue building). It sits on the same plot of land as the Sheraton Suites Fort Lauderdale Plantation.

Albino said the 2,800-square-foot space caught Brown’s eye when he visited for the Ford’s Garage opening in October. He said that while they were sitting inside the restaurant, Brown told him he thought the space across the street would be a great place for his “craft cocktail speakeasy” concept. That corner of the building features a signature clock tower that Albino called “ground zero” for the complex.

The likely site of a new Gantt Reserve Collection bar in South Florida is a vacant corner of a building in the Plantation Walk development. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, April 2024)
The likely site of a new Gantt Reserve Collection bar in South Florida is a vacant corner of a building in the Plantation Walk development. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, April 2024)

Through the windows, you can see the open space in its raw state – bare concrete walls and dirt floor – awaiting buildout (see photos above). With just two support beams, it appears to be a nice clean slate for Brown and his Don the Beachcomber design team to work their magic and bring the second Gantt Reserve Collection bar to life.

Stay tuned for future updates on this potential new location.

Don the Beachcomber official sites and social media
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The Donn of Tiki honored after world premiere at Florida Film Festival

The cinematic exploration of the life and times of Donn Beach is already garnering acclaim after its world premiere at the Florida Film Festival on April 13 at the Enzian Theater in Maitland, near Orlando. A second screening of The Donn of Tiki was held April 18 in nearby Winter Park.

The Donn of Tiki at the Florida Film Festival
The Donn of Tiki at the Florida Film Festival

Less than a week after Tiki-a-Go-Go, the Florida Tiki faithful turned out in force. Thanks to the overwhelming support and large turnout at both showings, the film earned the festival’s Audience Award in the Documentary Features Competition for directors Alex Lamb and Max Well of Surf Monkey Films. April 13 sold out well in advance, and the second showing was also a sell-out crowd.

Adding to the excitement of the premiere, beverage director Marie King from the Don the Beachcomber restaurant group treated the April 13 attendees to authentic Donn Beach cocktails. The directors were in attendance at the premiere, along with many others involved with the making of the film, such as biographer Tim “Swanky” Glazner.

The Donn of Tiki attempts to separate fact from fabrication with the help of modern Tiki legends like Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Smuggler’s Cove owner Martin Cate, people who knew him, historians, and recently resurfaced audio recordings of Donn himself, as we explore the legacy he left behind,” the 99-minute film’s bio states. “Mixing fun retro-style animation and live action interviews, the film reveals the man behind the myth, all the while exploring the side alleys of Donn’s life that included affairs, mob connections, and all sorts of nefarious activities.”
* Watch the official trailer on YouTube

After the 'The Donn of Tiki' premiere on April 13, a Florida Film Festival emcee (right) hosts a Q&A with the filmmakers and others involved with the production. From left are producer Taryn Roraback, Marie King from Don the Beachcomber restaurants, associate producer Tim "Swanky" Glazner, animation director Juan M. Urbina, director/editor Alex Lamb, and director/cinematographer Max Well. (Photo by Jim Neumayer)
After the ‘The Donn of Tiki’ premiere on April 13, a Florida Film Festival emcee (right) hosts a Q&A with the filmmakers and others involved with the production. From left are producer Taryn Roraback, Marie King from Don the Beachcomber restaurants, associate producer Tim “Swanky” Glazner, animation director Juan M. Urbina, director/editor Alex Lamb, and director/cinematographer Max Well. (Photo by Jim Neumayer)

The 33rd annual event was held April 12-21 and featured 171 films, including 24 world premieres and nine other documentary features. It’s an Oscar-qualifying festival and one of only a handful in the United States in all three shorts categories. A showcase for the best in American independent and foreign cinema, it is regularly listed among the top film festivals in the U.S.

Expect more screenings of The Donn of Tiki at other upcoming festivals and special events. Check the official website and social media links below for updates. If you’d like to support the film, you can still buy Zombie glasses (designed by B-Rex), cocktail pins, and a movie poster (original art by Kymm! Bang) in the official online store. The Kickstarter campaign that funded the film raised $199,143 in 2021.

Prior to this month’s premiere, the film had not been seen since a test screening during Tiki in Waikiki in Honolulu in August, documented by Adrian Eustaquio of Inside the Desert Oasis Room on his YouTube channel.

Recent press coverage
* The Donn of Tiki: How 2D and stop-motion animation elevate this documentary about the creator of Tiki culture (Cartoon Brew)

The Donn of Tiki updates
Official website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

Author aims for spring 2025 release of Donn Beach biography

The connective tissue that unites all the recent activity surrounding Don the Beachcomber is author Tim “Swanky” Glazner, founding member of the advisory board that guides the restaurant group, and also associate producer of the film. He was in on the ground floor of these projects by virtue of his detailed research of Donn Beach’s life that has spanned more than a decade.

Author Tim "Swanky" Glazner talks about his upcoming book during the 'Don the Beachcomber Returns!' presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando on April 6. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / Image: Donn-Beach.com)
Author Tim “Swanky” Glazner talks about his upcoming book during the ‘Don the Beachcomber Returns!’ presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando on April 6. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / Image: Donn-Beach.com)

It began with the contacts made during the writing of his first book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant (2016, Schiffer). It culminated with Glazner being gifted a treasure trove: The entire archive of Donn Beach’s personal papers and photos saved by his last wife, Phoebe Beach. This includes about 1,200 images and 4,500 documents, Glazner estimates.

Since Beach’s death in 1989, his widow kept his belongings private, save for the books she and her husband Arnold Bitner wrote in the early 2000s. Glazner has spent the past several years meticulously digitizing and documenting Beach’s memoirs. Their eventual home will be the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, he says.

But first, he wants to tell the first true story of Beach’s entire life and times. As part of his research, Glazner interviewed Beach’s family, friends, and business partners to get a full picture of the man. He then completed an expansive, detailed manuscript that is now in the hands of publisher Korero Press.

Searching for Don the Beachcomber will be available by next spring, Glazner announced at Tiki-a-Go-Go. Korero Press posted a special preview page in March with details on the project, including a mailing list that will offer “sneak peeks, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and details about the upcoming Kickstarter campaign.” Glazner and the publisher also launched a redesigned Donn-Beach.com website with exclusive info and mailing list sign-up.

Donn Beach at the opening of the Waiakea Resort Village and Marketplace in Hilo, Hawaii, in 1972. (KoreroPress.com)
Donn Beach at the opening of the Waiakea Resort Village and Marketplace in Hilo, Hawaii, in 1972. (KoreroPress.com)

At Tiki-a-Go-Go, Glazner participated in the Don the Beachcomber Returns! panel and also hosted his own presentation, Don the Beachcomber: Ambassador of Rum. During the April 6 panel, he said he considers Beach a hero and initially worried that a book might tarnish the mystique and “ruin it for everybody by telling his true story.”

Thankfully, he said, that’s not the case. “His true story is even more grand and fantastic than the myth,” and the book “does nothing to knock him off his pedestal,” Glazner said.

Until Searching for Don the Beachcomber arrives next year, he said, The Donn of Tiki does a great job of telling the story. “Don’s life story is a true American original,” Glazner said. “He came from a small town in Texas and became a legend. He lived through terrible things that would have stopped many people,” such as losing his business to his first wife, Sunny Sund. He essentially ran from the Mob to Hawaii to start a new business, Glazner said.

“You’ll absolutely want to see the visual history of Don the Beachcomber and his life and the hurdles that he crossed and how he became the legend that he truly was.”

Searching for Don the Beachcomber updates
Official website | Instagram | Facebook

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