It is said that when one door closes, another door opens full of promise and opportunity. For the Mai-Kai’s Pia Dahlquist, this holds very true. Having been born and raised in Sweden, Pia lived a life as most young people do, hanging out with friends, working, and spending time with her boyfriend and his family. In fact, Pia worked alongside her boyfriend’s family.
His family worked in tourism in a small village between Sweden and Norway. Pia worked with them learning the ins and outs of tourism in the small village that got quite busy during season. Suddenly, one day, he broke up with Pia, and she felt lost because of all the future plans she envisioned were now gone.
Everything Leads to Something Destined
But like good friends do, some of Pia’s closest friends went with her on a trip to Stockholm, just to get away and get her mind off things. Along the trip, Pia’s eye was caught by something in the local paper. It was an add for hire for a Swedish young lady to work as a companion for a Swedish couple’s elderly mother-in-law. The job though, was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Pia called the couple and spoke to the wife. Something in Pia’s voice told the woman on the other end of the line that Pia was the perfect fit for their family. Pia looked to a friend and asked, “Do you want to go to Fort Lauderdale, USA?”. The rest, we can say, is history.
Pia came to the U.S. and started working for the family. The family took her for the first time to dine in and enjoy a Polynesian show and that is when Pia stepped into Mai-Kai for the first time. Pia was grateful to be working with this family and to have been brought to such an amazing place. Unfortunately, her job as the elderly woman’s companion did not last very long. Sadly, the woman for whom Pia was a companion was very elderly, and soon passed away, cutting Pia’s employment short.
Now, looking to what was to be her future, Pia had to make some choices, either go back to Sweden or continue her adventure in Florida. She decided to stay States-side and earned her Bus and Taxi permit and a sponsorship for a work permit. She contacted a Scandinavian bus company and soon began driving tours to the Swap Shop.
She continued to prove herself and moved up to becoming a Destination Manager for the Scandinavian bus company. With time, Pia would also take bus tours to visit Mai-Kai. She became very well acquainted with the owner. The son and his family insisted that she come to work for them. They needed help with building their tourism traffic to the restaurant and Pia was the perfect candidate.
She worked hard and soon was reaping the rewards of her labor, so much so that her sister also joined he in working at Mai-Kai September of 1990. She has now dedicated 30 years sharing her knowledge and talent behind her work at Mai-Kai.
Pia’s Connections to Mai-Kai
Unbeknownst to Pia, she has had connections with Mai-Kai long before she arrived. Her mother came to Mai-Kai while visiting Pia and her sister. Their mother had fallen in love with it. Then, in 1989, Pia’s mother remarried at the restaurant. Also, in 1978 her uncle eloped from Sweden and got married in the Courthouse and had his wedding dinner there too! In 2006, Pia’s brother got there and Pia herself officiated the wedding ceremony! “There is a lot of love here at Mai-Kai“, Pia shares.
Pia moved along as life brought her one opportunity after another. From bus tours, Pia went on to become Group Coordinator at Mai-Kai. Pia says, “I inherited positions along the way”. She was also Director of Sales and Marketing, and presently, Pia is the Director of Public Relations for Mai-Kai. While Pia has dedicated her life to serving Mai-Kai, she has also delved into her own endeavors. She started her own tourism company, Yellow Brick Road which her sister-in-law currently runs.
Pia has also become very involved in the community. She has sat on the Board of the FRLA (Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association) since 2009. She is also on the Council for the Greater Florida Chamber of Commerce for Oakland Park, Wilton Manors, and Uptown. Pia says, “Working with the media is very important to me. It is important to me to be very interactive with the clients”.
Pia has been behind most of Mai-Kai’s most successful events, such as the 18-year running “The Hukilau”. It is a Summer event specific to celebrating The Mai-Kai. Of course, coronavirus affected these plans for this past summer as it has affected so many businesses. With not being 100% in the clear from COVID-19, Pia is hoping to organize a new twist on Halloween.
For 12 years, Mai-Kai has hosted “Hulaween” with Rockabilly Band and costume contests and prizes. She is the driving force behind their new ideas to make Halloween safe and fun during this pandemic. The new idea is to create a Drive in Movie Night, socially distancing cars and people to enjoy the night. Pia says to think outside the box. In fact, she says, “Putting on events we have to think outside the box. I feel like we have to throw away the box”.
It is clear and evident that Pia loves her position at the Mai-Kai. When asked if she sees herself there for years to come, Pia says, “Oh yes! In fact, I cannot see myself NOT working!”. With 30 years of dedicated service to the Mai Kai she is as much of an icon to the Mai-Kai as the Mai-Kai is to Oakland Park and Fort Lauderdale.