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Historic Polynesian Eatery To Close

August 24, 2000

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ The Kahiki Supper club, a Polynesian restaurant that made bamboo poles and tiki torches hip decades before ``Survivor,″ will serve its last Smoking Eruption rum drink Friday.

The nightspot, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was frequented by visiting celebrities and originated a brand of nationally sold frozen foods, is being torn down to make room for a Walgreen drug store.

Bobbie Bennett recalled the excitement in 1961 of watching the swooping A-frame roof being built in a flat, then-rural part of Columbus.

``You can tell how much it means to people because this place has been besieged since they said it was going to close,″ she said, sitting under a thatch roof that gives the feeling of eating in a grass hut.

Thomas Montague ate lunch there Wednesday to say goodbye to a ``part of good old Columbus.″

``To put a drugstore in _ that’s not progress,″ said his wife, Pat.

Many encouraged owner Michael Tsao to keep the restaurant open, but he said the closing was unavoidable because of a drastic decline in business. On a road lined with strip malls and apartments, the Kahiki sits miles from the city’s clusters of fashionable restaurants.

Tsao, dressed in a flowered shirt and a pink lei, said he wants to re-create the restaurant at a downtown location within two years, perhaps along the riverfront. He said Walgreen is not responsible for the closing and is getting undue criticism.

``Without them, how are we going to get an opportunity to start again? This is progress,″ Tsao said over the din of recorded thunder as rain poured on the Kahiki’s indoor rain forest.

The Kahiki thrived as a special occasion restaurant. Tsao recalled placing countless diamond rings and marriage proposals into fortune cookies for nervous men.

``This is the granddaddy of theme restaurants,″ Tsao said.

The trend of Polynesian-theme restaurants was inspired by the return of servicemen from the South Pacific after World War II, said Tom Wolf, public education manager for the Ohio Historic Preservation Office.

Ordinarily, a landmark has to be 50 years old to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Kahiki made the list in 1997 because of its exceptional architectural significance and representation of 1950s and ’60s entertainment.

``It’s amazing the tremendous amount of thought that went into the design,″ Wolf said. ``Some people call it kitschy, but I don’t think it is.″

In an upstairs office at the Kahiki, faded photographs of Art Linkletter, George Hamilton, and a dark-haired Merv Griffin sitting with three pretty waitresses show the famous patrons the restaurant once attracted.

Tsao said the Kahiki has provided more than 10 million customers with a taste of the Polynesian culture, but he is most pleased that he has employed many Asian immigrants.

None of the 110 workers will lose their jobs, because Kahiki Foods Inc. will continue to produce a line of frozen Polynesian and Chinese foods, Tsao said. A new plant will open near the aiport on Wednesday.

Although the restaurant will be demolished, the decorations and furniture will be stored in a warehouse. If Tsao can find the right location, the Kahiki’s trademark Easter Island-inspired tiki heads could greet diners once again.

___

On the Net: http://www.kahiki.com

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