Exclusive photos: Inside the Molokai Bar and tour of The Mai-Kai restoration

Exclusive photos: Inside the Molokai Bar and tour of The Mai-Kai restoration

Imagine the Olympics without a closing ceremony. The Super Bowl without a halftime show. The equivalent in the Tiki world is The Hukilau without The Mai-Kai, which has been the unfortunate “new normal” amid the historic South Florida restaurant’s ongoing restoration project in the wake of its closing in late 2020 due to a severe back-of-house roof collapse.

Previous coverage: The Mai-Kai sneak preview at The Hukilau
Mai-Kai from the Outside In with Will Anders
Story archive: Full coverage of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway before the tour groups arrived on June 7. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway before the tour groups arrived on June 7. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

For 17 years, the elaborately themed Polynesian palace was the centerpiece of the annual gathering of Tiki enthusiasts from around the world. It hosted a spectacular main event that filled the entire 600-capacity venue to the brim with Hukilau attendees for two performances of the Polynesian Islander Revue in the main dining rooms, plus bands such as Los Straitjackets and Tikiyaki Orchestra performing all night in the Molokai Bar and Tahiti dining room.
Related: The Mai-Kai through the eyes of The Hukilau villagers (2021)

There were also annual pre- and post-event parties, memorable symposiums, movie screenings, and lots more. Even when there was nothing scheduled, you couldn’t keep The Hukilau passholders, affectionately known as “villagers,” away from The Mai-Kai during its popular nightly happy hour in the bar.

For many villagers, the Molokai Bar is the space they remember the most, which made this year’s event even more special. Following a cocktail party held outside under the porte-cochère during the first post-pandemic Hukilau in September 2021, there have been no opportunities for guests to visit amid the massive reimagination of the 2.7-acre property in Oakland Park.

In 2024, the timing was right. Hukilau organizer Richard Oneslager (part of the investment team backing the $15 million in renovations) made good on his promise that villagers would return to The Mai-Kai this year. Multi-day passholders were given access to exclusive tours on June 7 that allowed them to get a peek inside many of the finished spaces, starting in the beloved Molokai. A full reopening is expected in late summer to early fall.

Mai-Kai creative director
Mai-Kai creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly (left) enjoy The Hukilau festivities at the Beachcomber Resort on June 6. Artist Tom Fowner, who is also working on the restoration efforts, makes a hat from palm leaves while vending in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar on June 8. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

Large busses transported around 50 villagers at a time from The Hukilau headquarters at the oceanfront Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach. Throughout the day, four groups made the 5-mile pilgrimage, meaning several hundred got the chance to look behind the curtain and meet the manager and two of the creatives deeply immersed in the project.

The tours were led by 30-year general manager Kern Mattei, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller, artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly, and this writer (Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog). The groups were organized by another 30-year veteran, Mai-Kai sales and marketing director Pia Dahlquist, who was handling the planning and logistics for The Hukilau

Our previous story covered the highlights of the experience enjoyed by the villagers, which included complimentary cocktails and a rare chance to pick up Mai-Kai merchandise. In this story, we’ll go into more detail on exactly what we saw during the tours, along with additional exclusive photos of the Molokai Bar.

What villagers didn’t see was all the work that went into the preparations before they arrived. During the week before the Friday event, The Mai-Kai renovation crew (which also includes artist Tom Fowner) was joined by Hukilau volunteers who helped them get the tour sites cleaned up and looking shipshape.

Rich Allsmiller helps restore one of the model ships displayed throughout the nautical themed areas of The Mai-Kai. Click for larger image. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, Marina Anderson / Official Mai-Kai photo)
Rich Allsmiller helps restore one of the model ships displayed throughout the nautical themed areas of The Mai-Kai. Click for larger image. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, Marina Anderson / Official Mai-Kai photo)

Speaking of ships, when it came time to restore some of the scale models that adorn the Molokai Bar, Allsmiller turned to an expert close to home. His dad, Rich Allsmiller, briefly joined the crew to lend his expertise as a world-class model builder. (In April, the Allsmiller boys discussed this topic in a presentation on the iconic Nautilus from the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at Tiki-a-Go-Go.)

Mattei and his team also had to plan the tour logistics well in advance, coordinating with Dahlquist. They came up with a flawless plan that allowed each of the four busloads to have roughly 2 hours at the restaurant, including smaller 20-minute guided tours.

There was a lot to see, and the villagers were eager to do as much as possible. Here’s an overview of what each busload experienced.

Continue reading “Exclusive photos: Inside the Molokai Bar and tour of The Mai-Kai restoration”

Minimalist Tiki

The Mai-Kai restoration work expands, sneak previews offered at The Hukilau (May 2024 update)

The Mai-Kai restoration work expands, sneak previews offered (May 2024 update)

Updated July 10

As The Mai-Kai prepares for an invasion of Hukilau villagers this week, the expansive restoration project continues to engulf the 2.7-acre historic property. Passholders treated to special tours will see several of the fully restored indoor guest areas, but the massive parking lot project remains in low gear until all the permits are in place.

The Hukilau photos, recaps
NEW: Inside the Molokai Bar and tour of The Mai-Kai restoration
Hukilau villagers return to The Mai-Kai
Mai-Kai from the Outside In with Will Anders

Since our last update at the end of April, several projects have advanced while others await a green light to take flight. The new kitchen, bar and back-of-house areas continue to come to life while creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and his team add their finishing touches. They also continue to restore, replicate and reimagine many other areas across the property.

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. At right you can see the work being done to restore the rock work. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2024)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. At right you can see the work being done to restore the rock work. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2024)

The Hukilau offers guided tours of The Mai-Kai

Multi-day passholders attending the long-running Tiki weekender will get exclusive guided tours of The Mai-Kai on Friday, June 7. [See previous coverage] They will be escorted in small groups, allowing for a unique glimpse into the day-to-day operations of the renovation crew.

Upon arrival, tour attendees will receive a restoration update as they gather in The Molokai bar for a cocktail. They will then break into smaller groups for a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at some of the restored dining rooms and reimagined back-of-house areas.

There will be a strict “no photos” policy inside The Mai-Kai. The owners and staff request that guests respect their desire to be the ones to reveal their finished work. The creative director suggests the proper mindset: “Just take it in with your eyes, and know that you’ve seen something that nobody else has seen.” The tours will be given by Allsmiller, artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly, manager Kern Mattei, and yours truly. I hope to see you there!

The Hukilau 2024 preview & flashback: Inside (and outside) The Mai-Kai with Tiki carver Will Anders
The Hukilau 2024 preview & flashback: Inside (and outside) The Mai-Kai with Tiki carver Will Anders
The South Florida artist will share his experiences creating authentic Polynesian art – both large and small – during a presentation on June 8 at the annual Tiki weekender on Pompano Beach.
Audio & photos Walking tour with Will Anders, Kern Mattei, Hurricane Hayward in 2018
More on The Hukilau: Symposiums, vendors and more announced for 22nd Tiki weekender June 6-9

Latest news on the restoration

Operating under these same photo guidelines, we visited the restaurant in late May to get an update on the $15 million project that kicked off in early 2022 following the partnership between the founding Thornton family and a new ownership team led by historic preservationist Bill Fuller of Barlington Group. The sale was necessary after a catastrophic back-of-house roof collapse in October 2020 that destroyed the 1970s-era kitchen in the 67-year-old facility.

We got an update on the new kitchen and bar from Mattei, the longtime manager, plus news from Allsmiller on his projects. Photos of the outdoor area also show some slow progress on prep work for the ambitious reimagination of the entry experience and parking lot.

Recent Mai-Kai coverage
* The Mai-Kai reveals new images, plans for restoration at Orlando event, continues $15M project (April 2024 update)
* Mai-Kai kitchen and bar take shape as team heads to Tiki-a-Go-Go (March 2024)
Story archive: Full coverage of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

Lamp project nearing home stretch

At left is a finished lamp, shared on Instagram by Scott "Flounder" Scheidly on May 16. "There’s still a ton of work to do at The Mai Kai but I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel," he wrote. Fellow artist Tom Fowner shared the photo at right that shows the condition of some of the massive hanging lamps in the showroom, before and after restoration.
At left is a finished lamp, shared on Instagram by Scott “Flounder” Scheidly on May 16. “There’s still a ton of work to do at The Mai Kai but I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he wrote. Fellow artist Tom Fowner shared the photo at right that shows the condition of some of the massive hanging lamps in the showroom, before and after restoration.

Among the project updates from Mattei and Allsmiller:

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai restoration work expands, sneak previews offered at The Hukilau (May 2024 update)”

Exclusive: The Mai-Kai reveals new images, plans for restoration at Orlando event, continues $15M project (April 2024 update)

The Mai-Kai reveals new images, plans for restoration at Orlando event, continues $15M project (April 2024 update)

Key members of The Mai-Kai team traveled to Orlando in early April to share updates and plans for the $15 million restoration project that is entering its final stages in South Florida. The beloved restaurant has been closed since late 2020, but new interest in its history and rejuvenation has never been higher.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Tiki-a-Go-Go: Panel discussion overview | New kitchen, bar details | Artists showcase their work | Landscape architect’s plans | Pop-up cocktails
Latest news: April refurbishment updates

Hurricane Hayward kicks off the panel discussion on The Mai-Kai on the first day of the inaugural Tiki-a-Go-Go at the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando on April 5. (Atomic Grog photo)
Hurricane Hayward kicks off the panel discussion on The Mai-Kai on the first day of the inaugural Tiki-a-Go-Go at the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando on April 5. (Atomic Grog photo)

An audience of several hundred attended the panel discussion Return to Paradise: The Mai-Kai Rises Again, moderated by The Atomic Grog at the first annual Tiki-a-Go-Go. It was an honor to interview and get insights from manager Kern Mattei, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller, artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly, public relations director Pia Dahlquist, author Tim “Swanky” Glazner, The Hukilau organizer Richard Oneslager, plus Jesse Muller from landscape architecture firm Perry-Becker Design.

The sold-out event at the at the Caribe Royale Resort ran from April 5-7 and also included a pop-up bar featuring Mai-Kai cocktails, served by Mattei and his son Cheyne. [See photos below] The veteran manager also joined us for the presentation Mai-Kai Cocktails: Tiki History in a Glass. Mahalo to everyone who attended the packed symposium.

The Mai-Kai's iconic sign, as seen from Federal Highway in Oakland Park. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, April 2024)
The Mai-Kai’s iconic sign, as seen from Federal Highway in Oakland Park. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, April 2024)

Following is a full recap of the panel discussion, including exclusive new images from the presentation. At the end of the month, we caught up with Mattei and Allsmiller for an update on all the work going on at The Mai-Kai, also detailed below.

The next major Mai-Kai event is planned for June, when The Hukilau will offer attendees holding Aloha and South Seas passes exclusive tours of the restored interior and a sneak peek at what’s still to come. The 22nd Tiki weekender is scheduled for June 6-9 at the Beachcomber Resort on Pompano Beach. Click here for our exclusive preview and click here to buy tickets.

Recent coverage
* Mai-Kai kitchen and bar take shape as team heads to Tiki-a-Go-Go (March 2024)
* Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead (February 2024)
Story archive: Full coverage of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

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Tiki-a-Go-Go welcomes The Mai-Kai for presentations, cocktails

It was fitting that the first presentation at the first Tiki-a-Go-Go was focused on Florida’s beloved Polynesian palace, established in 1956. This new Tiki weekender puts a heavy focus on vintage Tiki and Florida attractions in its programming. Click here for a photo recap of the event, which featured two days of live music and entertainment, vendors, guest Tiki bars, and more.

Return to Paradise: The Mai-Kai Rises Again at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando, April 5, 2024

Return to Paradise: The Mai-Kai Rises Again kicked off the event on Friday, April 5 at 11 a.m. in the Caribe Royale Resort’s massive Caribbean Ballroom. The enthusiastic attendees applauded throughout the presentation as the panel of experts talked about the history and future of the historic restaurant.

The first to speak was Glazner, author of Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant and the upcoming Searching for Don the Beachcomber. He admitted that he was “very skeptical” of a possible restoration after hearing about the scope of the damage caused by a roof collapse over the kitchen in October 2020.

Continue reading “Exclusive: The Mai-Kai reveals new images, plans for restoration at Orlando event, continues $15M project (April 2024 update)”

Mai-Kai update (February 2024): Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead

Mai-Kai update (February 2024): Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead

The light at the end of the tunnel is about to become much brighter at The Mai-Kai in South Florida as the historic restaurant prepares for an ambitious transformation of its sprawling 2.7-acre grounds.

Jump below: Latest refurbishment news | Landscape reimagination imminent |outside Update on permits, timeline
* The Mai-Kai at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival
Preview: The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog at Tiki-a-Go-Go

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2024)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2024)

Meanwhile, the artists working in and around the vintage A-frame building have turned the energy level up a notch in anticipation of the home stretch of Phase 1 of the multi-year, multimillion-dollar project. All available information points to a summer reopening, with the most optimistic estimate being June.

Excitement for the reopening was fueled in late February by an article in the Wall Street Journal that proclaims Fort Lauderdale a “cool” destination for “hip, hungry travelers.” While extolling the city’s “booming food scene and throwback architecture,” the article mentions the reopening of The Mai-Kai:

Fans of midcentury design are waiting for June, though, when the Mai-Kai will reopen after a 30-month, $15 million renovation. The Polynesian-style restaurant, built in 1956, was arguably the apotheosis of tiki culture. Partnering with distiller Maison Ferrand to resurrect the high ester rum used in classic tiki cocktails like the Jet Pilot, it hopes to retake that honor.

New owner Bill Fuller is leading the restoration efforts, including the creation of a new signature rum. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
New owner Bill Fuller is leading the restoration efforts, including the creation of a new signature rum. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The Journal got that information directly from owner Bill Fuller, who assembled the team that purchased The Mai-Kai in September 2021 after a catastrophic roof collapse over the kitchen forced the October 2020 closure that has now stretched past three years. Fuller’s historic preservation firm, Barlington Group, spearheaded the purchase. Another company he owns, Mad Room Hospitality, will operate the restaurant along with the founding Thornton family. The new Mai-Kai Rum No. 1 is a blend of Barbados and Jamaican rums created by master distiller Don Benn at the West Indies Rum Distillery in Barbados, where it will will shipped directly to Florida to be bottled.

That $15 million figure is new, a much higher number than we’ve previously seen reported. It speaks not only to the extra time spent on the detailed restoration, but also the unwavering commitment from the ownership group. Back in June 2022 during a presentation at The Hukilau, Fuller told the faithful fans of The Mai-Kai: “If we need to spend an extra million dollars or two, we’re going to do it because we want it to be perfect.” He has obviously doubled down on that promise.

And while a June reopening date is far from certain, it’s a goal that Fuller and his team have set. Like everything else involving this restoration, it doesn’t hurt to set the bar high and reach for the stars.

The entrance to The Mai-Kai is about to receive a total transformation as crews prepare for a new driveway to be installed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2024)
The entrance to The Mai-Kai is about to receive a total transformation as crews prepare for a new driveway to be installed. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2024)

Recent coverage
* Renovations engulf entire property, reopening estimated for summer (January 2024)
* Mai-Kai refurbishment 2023 year-end recap: Updates, photos, timeline

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FEBRUARY 2024: Restoration efforts reach new heights, expand in new directions

As detailed in our previous reports in January and February (see links above), we’re limited from showing the exquisite interior renovations during the final stages of work, but we did get a chance to chat in late February with creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller, who filled us in on what he and his crew were up to during that month. Fellow Central Florida artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly shared some images of their work on social media, which you can find below.

We also paid a visit to 3599 N. Federal Highway in Oakland Park to document the work on the exterior, briefly chatting with manager Kern Mattei and South Florida artist Tom Fowner, who recently joined the restoration team full-time. Fowner has worked with The Mai-Kai previously, most notably on one of the three Tiki carvings that greet guests near the porte-cochère.

Overall, February was very productive. “I feel that we’ve done more this month,” Allsmiller said. Following are some of his thoughts on what was accomplished, along with what’s still to come.

The addition of Fowner has helped Allsmiller, Scheidly and artist Conrad Teheiura Itchener expand the scope of their work in their central workshop in the Hawaii dining room. “We needed help, and he was free,” Allsmiller said.

Artist Tom Fowner strips all the old material off a vintage lamp that hangs high under The Mai-Kai's A-frame. After the lamp frame is shored up, he will restore the outer materials and it will receive new bulbs and wiring before it returns to its perch. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, March 2024)
Artist Tom Fowner strips all the old material off a vintage lamp that hangs high under The Mai-Kai’s A-frame. After the lamp frame is shored up, he will restore the outer materials and it will receive new bulbs and wiring before it returns to its perch. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, March 2024)

Fowner, who recently contributed his Tiki-carving talents to the build-out of the new Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, went right to work at The Mai-Kai refurbishing some of the massive lamps that hang high under the 40-foot A-frame. We caught him out front, stripping everything off one of the well-worn frames. He said they’re trying to restore them “in a similar fashion” to the originals.

Reaching these uppermost areas filled with vintage lamps, many created by Oceanic Arts in the 1950s and ’60s, has been the most challenging. The crew used scaffolding to reach the ceiling in the rear of the building, above the Tonga dining room. Allsmiller said they removed the large signature fish trap and cleaned it up. “It’s ready to go back up,” he said.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai update (February 2024): Exterior reimagination up next as $15 million Mai-Kai project plows ahead”

Mai-Kai refurbishment 2023 year-end recap: Updates, photos, timeline

The Mai-Kai refurbishment 2023 year-end recap: Updates, photos, timeline

The artists, craftsmen and management working on the multimillion-dollar reimagination of The Mai-Kai tied a bow on a busy year in late 2023, finishing several projects and taking on ambitious new ones. As the total transformation of the grounds outside becomes a top priority, the indoor guest spaces of the historic restaurant continue to receive careful restoration with no detail left untended.

Jump below: 2023 timeline, past coverage

The Mai-Kai facade now includes traditional Polynesian designs by "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller on the trim surrounding the beam extensions. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2023)
The Mai-Kai facade now includes traditional Polynesian designs by “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller on the trim surrounding the beam extensions. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2023)

Meanwhile, manager Kern Mattei is preparing for the completion of new back-of-house facilities, including a totally rebuilt kitchen and two back bars. We caught up with Mattei for an update just before Christmas. Following are his insights on what’s happening on multiple fronts.

Creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller added new stenciled artwork to all of the fascia board trim around the front of the building, stretching from the left of the A-frame near the Tahiti Room all the way to The Molokai bar. You can clearly see the restored trim from the sidewalk along Federal Highway.

When the beam extensions were restored in September, Allsmiller said he wanted to design “something a little more traditional” for the trim. He said he tried to create something based more in Marquesan and Hawaiian art than the previous artwork and graphics, which were likely Polynesian Pop designs by George Nakashima during the 1970 renovation.

Recent coverage
* Beyond Bora Bora: Reimagination of Mai-Kai entry experience evokes original vision
* Fall 2023: Artists shine amid construction as final renovation projects take flight
* Past news, photos of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

A refurbished fence now stands outside The Molokai lounge, directly to the left of The Mai-Kai's main entrance. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2023)
A refurbished fence now stands outside The Molokai lounge, directly to the left of The Mai-Kai’s main entrance. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2023)

Walking the Federal Highway sidewalk, you can also see a lot of touch-up work being done on the rock work. After the repairs are done, they will get a textured finish to blend in so you won’t even know they were repaired.

Nearby, a new privacy fence has gone up along the northern windows of The Molokai. Totally refurbished and painted green like the original, it features a new access gate with a slightly different design. As much wood as possible was salvaged from the old fence, Mattei said.

While it’s designed to look jagged and ragged, the new fence is totally rebuilt, better looking and much stronger. Mattei said it still needs the old artifacts added, plus a new ledge along the front. The window water effects are still a work in progress, he said.

A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway includes the new designs on the fascia board trim, plus repairs in progress on the surrounding rock work. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2023)
A view of The Mai-Kai from Federal Highway includes the new designs on the fascia board trim, plus repairs in progress on the surrounding rock work. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2023)

Mattei noted that similar repairs to the rock work are happening inside the Tiki garden, where guests enjoy the lush paths, waterfalls and vintage carvings. Crew members who specialize in stucco are adding patches. Allsmiller will then add the proper texture, and he or a painting crew will do the finishing.

For much of December, Allsmiller and fellow Florida artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly concentrated their efforts on The Mai-Kai’s showroom, home of the Polynesian Islander Revue, the oldest continually-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States (including Hawaii). Allsmiller spent two weeks refurbishing the stage, carving new decorative trim out of redwood.

The stage is now back to its original glory, Mattei said, including the parquet floor. A Polynesian show was first added almost exactly 62 years ago in early 1962. One of the original performers, Mireille Thornton, remains the show choreographer and costume designer in addition to her role as matriarch of the founding Thornton family.

A view of the upper reaches of The Mai-Kai's main A-frame over the Tonga Room in October 2023 (left). Refurbishment of the lamps began in December, along with a restoration of the showroom stage. At right, a crew can be seen installing new neo panels in November. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
A view of the upper reaches of The Mai-Kai’s main A-frame over the Tonga Room in October 2023 (left). Refurbishment of the lamps began in December, along with a restoration of the showroom stage. At right, a crew can be seen installing new neo panels in November. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

Meanwhile, renovations started on the vintage lamps high under the 40-foot A-frame. Mattei said they’re using a huge scaffolding to reach to the very top of the ceiling.

They’re fixing as many as they can in place so they don’t need to bring them all down, he said. They’re replacing bulbs and using an air brush to clean them. Some are just dusted while others are being refurbished.

Scheidly did a lot of the work on the lamps while Allsmiller worked on the stage. He later told us he spent an entire week up on the scaffolding, enjoying a view of The Mai-Kai from a vantage point very few see.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai refurbishment 2023 year-end recap: Updates, photos, timeline”

Inside The Mai-Kai: Detailed restoration advances amid total infrastructure overhaul (summer 2023 recap)

Inside The Mai-Kai: Detailed restoration advances amid total infrastructure overhaul (summer 2023 recap)

As the renovation of The Mai-Kai reaches a crucial point outdoors, work is progressing on the restoration of the historic South Florida restaurant’s guest areas alongside a near total rebuild of the back-of-house facilities.

SEE BELOW: Samoa Room meticulously restored | Lamps & lights get detailed revamp | Molds reshape vintage decor | Woodworkers set stage for artists | New back-of-house taking shape

Creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller (right) and artist Scott "Flounder" Scheidly work in the nerve center of their lamp-rebuilding efforts in the showroom at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 11. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller (right) and artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly work in the nerve center of their lamp-rebuilding efforts in the showroom at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 11. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

It’s a two-pronged effort overseen by Kern Mattei, a second-generation employee who grew up at The Mai-Kai and is now in his 30th year as manager. An October 2020 roof collapse took out the massive kitchen and back bar. A change in ownership in September 2021 kick-started the renovation efforts, which now enter the final phases.

On the job since early 2022, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller has brought both his passion for historic Polynesian design and his vast experiece as a theme park scenic artist to The Mai-Kai’s many restoration projects. For most of this year, he’s been joined by another central Florida artist, Scott “Flounder” Scheidly, creating a well-oiled machine that can seemingly handle any task, no matter how challenging.

They were joined this summer by another multifaceted artist who has been crucial in helping them use inventive techniques to restore some of the areas most in need of TLC. Along with the woodworking crew tasked with repairing all of The Mai-Kai’s damaged walls and ceiling, Conrad Teheiura Itchener is a key member of the team bringing the Tiki temple back to life.

Conrad Teheiura Itchener pours wet foam into a mold to re-create framing for vintage wall decor (left) and unveils a finished wall panel on Aug. 11. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Conrad Teheiura Itchener pours wet foam into a mold to re-create framing for vintage wall decor (left) and unveils a finished wall panel on Aug. 11. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

Meanwhile, the new ownership team led by historic preservationist Bill Fuller of Barlington Group is pumping all of its resources into modernizing the infrastructure, from new roofs to a revamped electrical grid and air-handling system. Helping Mattei rebuild the kitchen and back-of-house is Fuller’s sister company, Mad Room Hospitality, which oversees other historic restaurants including Miami’s Ball & Chain.

Following is an extensive recap of all the work done inside The Mai-Kai since our last stories in early July. Meanwhile, a related story contains up-to-the minute news on the reimagination of the parking lot as well as a projected reopening date.

RELATED: Outside The Mai-Kai: Artistic flourishes set stage for reimagination, early 2024 reopening (summer 2023 recap)
FULL COVERAGE: Latest news, photos of The Mai-Kai refurbishment

Manager Kern Mattei talks about the early years of The Mai-Kai during the presentation "Tiki History Reimagined: The Restoration and Reopening of The Mai-Kai" at Tiki Oasis in San Diego on Aug. 5. (Photo by Sven Kirsten)
Manager Kern Mattei talks about the early years of The Mai-Kai during the presentation “Tiki History Reimagined: The Restoration and Reopening of The Mai-Kai” at Tiki Oasis in San Diego on Aug. 5. (Photo by Sven Kirsten)

Previous coverage
* The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog at Tiki Oasis
* The Mai-Kai renovations, May-June 2023: Historic restaurant’s new infrastructure begins to take shape
* Meticulous attention to detail is hallmark of The Mai-Kai restoration project (May-June 2023 update)

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Some of the vintage lamps in The Mai-Kai's Samoa Room that have been completely refurbished along with the walls and ceiling. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / Aug. 18, 2023)
Some of the vintage lamps in The Mai-Kai’s Samoa Room that have been completely refurbished along with the walls and ceiling. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / Aug. 18, 2023)

SAMOA ROOM: One of the original dining areas meticulously restored

Over the past six months, creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller and artist Scott “Flounder” Scheidly have methodically brought many of The Mai-Kai’s elaborately themed dining rooms back to life: New Guinea, Hawaii, Moorea, and the lower areas of Tonga. But the completion of the one of the oldest dining areas, Samoa, remained elusive.

Continue reading “Inside The Mai-Kai: Detailed restoration advances amid total infrastructure overhaul (summer 2023 recap)”

Meticulous attention to detail is hallmark of The Mai-Kai restoration project (May-June 2023 update)

Meticulous attention to detail is hallmark of The Mai-Kai restoration project (May-June 2023 update)

When The Mai-Kai reopens for guests, there will be tons of fresh features on the exterior: A lushly landscaped entryway with flowing water and rock work, a redesigned and immersive parking lot, plus a new outdoor bar and stage. But when you enter the main building, it will be like stepping into a time machine set for 1973.
RELATED: The Mai-Kai renovations, May-June 2023: Historic restaurant’s new infrastructure begins to take shape
SEE BELOW: May-June chronology | Design projects in depth

Scott "Flounder" Scheidly (left) and creative director "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller have mastered the art of restoring vintage lamps at The Mai-Kai. (Photos by Kern Mattei and Hurricane Hayward / June 2023)
Scott “Flounder” Scheidly (left) and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller have mastered the art of restoring vintage lamps at The Mai-Kai. (Photos by Kern Mattei and Hurricane Hayward / June 2023)

Making this feat a reality is a team of artists and craftspeople under the direction of manager Kern Mattei and creative director “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller. This over-arching job is mammoth, encompassing the restoration of the Molokai bar, eight elaborately themed dining areas, plus other guest spaces.

On top of this, Mattei is managing on-site workflow during the massive infrastructure project [see sidebar] while Allsmiller has his hand in any project that requires thematic design and an artist’s touch. In our last detailed story, we took a long look behind the scenes as Allsmiller and Scott “Flounder” Scheidly were deeply immersed in detail work throughout the sprawling 26,000-square-foot building.
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The Mai-Kai at Tiki Oasis
The Mai-Kai and The Atomic Grog are headed to Tiki Oasis
Join us for two special seminars at the world’s original Tiki weekender Aug. 2-6 in San Diego

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In this update, we’ll catch up with the Orlando-area artists as they continue their mission to return The Mai-Kai to the same condition it was when the last major redesign was completed in the early 1970s. That’s when the last dining rooms were added and the building’s current footprint was solidified, some 15 years after its 1956 opening.

First, let’s walk through a chronological recap from May and June:

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MAY AND JUNE UPDATES

Restored lamps in the Hawaii dining room, early May 2023. (Photo by Kern Mattei)
Restored lamps in the Hawaii dining room, early May 2023. (Photo by Kern Mattei)

EARLY MAY: Allsmiller and Scheidly were busy refurbishing lamps in the Hawaii dining area, the 60-capacity room to the right of the showroom stage. “They touched almost all of them,” Mattei said. They also finished the ceiling in Hawaii, adding new panels.

They were assisted by longtime Mai-Kai handyman Gustavo in removing the window between Hawaii and Samoa, then adding new wood and lighting. The window was cleaned and put back in place, restoring this little-known feature to its vintage condition:

Handyman Gustavo (from left),
(Photos by Kern Mattei)

They also started on the adjacent Moorea dining area, a 40-capacity room that’s slightly elevated to offer the most distant views of the Polynesian Islander Revue to the north beyond Hawaii. The opposite southern glass wall, featuring rare yellow Chinese jade tiles, offers views of the outdoor garden. The crew immediately targeted the woodwork, matting and lamps for repair.

The lamp-builders also pivoted back to the Tonga Room, the elevated 80-capacity space in the back of the showroom. They had made great progress there in previous months, but the huge space still had many lamps that needed work.

Below at left is a restored tapa in The Mai-Kai’s Hawaii Room. A vintage turtle shell lamp will be returned to the center (note the electrical outlet). At right are some of the many restored lamps in the Tonga Room.

Restored tapas in The Mai-Kai's Hawaii Room (left) and lamps in the Tonga Room. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)
(Photos by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)

MID-MAY: Work wrapped up in the Hawaii dining room as Allsmiller and Scheidly put finishing touches on the lamps, walls and ceiling. “Once the turtle shells go back on the walls, it’s going to be beautiful in here,” Allsmiller said.

In their workspace in the main showroom, the lamp brigade finished all of the low-hanging lamps in the Tonga dining area, many created 50 years ago by the venerable Oceanic Arts. Those high in the A-frame will be touched later. Traditionally one of the darkest parts of restaurant, this area looks much brighter with all the lamps refurbished and featuring modern LED lighting.

In the left photo below, Allsmiller shows off a lamp project on May 18. At right, he points out work being done to restore an old framed tapa in the hallway near the Tonga Room and entrance to the kitchen. After the colors are touched up and it’s covered in Mod Podge, you won’t even notice, he said. “We’re trying to save them, bring them back.”

"Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller shows off a lamp project (left) and points out work being done to restore an old framed tapa. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)
(Photos by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)

Back in Moorea, Allsmiller explained how they’re trying to restore the walls even though some of the materials are no longer available. He said they’re using materials salvaged from elsewhere, then changing the design slightly so chair backs will no longer damage the matting. “We’re saving material and reusing it,” he said.

He said the typical plan of attack for each room is to work on the walls first and save the lamps for last, or whenever they’re waiting for materials. On May 18, I found them in the nerve center – the main showroom workspace – buried in new lamp projects.

Both Scheidly and Allsmiller were working on total rebuilds of old lamps from the Tonga Room, found broken and in bad shape (see photo below). “I like the challenge,” Allsmiller said of not having the blueprints. He said he can make an educated guess of what the lamps should look like. Schematics for some of the Oceanic Arts lamps were found in The Mai-Kai warehouse, but many others are mysteries.

Scott "Flounder" Scheidly (left) and "Typhoon Tommy" Allsmiller works on rebuilding vintage lamps at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)
(Photo by Hurricane Hayward / May 2023)

Work was also progressing into Samoa, a secluded dining area that seats 44 in one of the oldest rooms at The Mai-Kai. The “demolition crew” had been busy tearing out all the old, damaged wall materials. This is a big help to the designers, allowing them to concentrate on restoration. Work was also advancing on the refurbishing of the ceiling and beams.

Continue reading “Meticulous attention to detail is hallmark of The Mai-Kai restoration project (May-June 2023 update)”