Almost 65 years ago Bob and Jack Thornton, brothers and tiki lovers, opened the doors of Mai-Kai, Polynesian Restaurant. With its distinctive Polynesian decor, triangle shaped thatched hut roof and exotic tiki pleasures, the restaurant soon became a landmark in Oakland Park and Greater Fort Lauderdale. It also earned its place on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. To date it is one of the few places in South Florida to have earned this distinction. Because of the unique dining and entertainment experience the Mai Kai offered, it has been a favorite location for both locals and tourists for decades.
Recently the restaurant experienced some problems that forced them to close their doors. These problems may threaten their very existence in the future unless they can find a means to recover, renovate and re-open.
And the Roof Came Tumbling Down
A few days later, the structure was deemed unsafe and the City of Oakland Park shut the restaurant down indefinitely.
The same day they were shut down by the City, Mai Kai management posted the following message on their Facebook page, clarifying the reason for which they had closed their doors. This message conveyed, as did the previous one, a positive outlook for re-opening a new and improved Mai Kai, albeit this message had no stated date for when the re-opening might happen.
The Hula Must Go On
While the Mai Kai management team planned on regrouping, they held their annual Hulaween celebration in the parking lot. In addition, throughout the shutdown the restaurant has continued to sell their signature drinks and Polynesian themed goods through their online store.
Despite this effort to earn enough funds to complement remuneration from insurance, it was simply not enough to generate the funds needed for repairs and updating in order to fully re-open. Consequently they decided to seek a joint venture business partner or sell the Mai Kai, tiki huts, proprietary recipes and all.
On January 21, 2021 Transworld Business Advisors announced the following on the behalf of their new clients, the owners of the Mai Kai:
“The sale, or joint-venture development of the Mai-Kai represents a rare opportunity to own a storied piece of South Florida history,” according to Andrew Cagnetta, Transworld Business Advisors CEO. “Not only does the restaurant have a loyal following developed over decades in business, but it’s premier location also offers excellent exposure on the heavily trafficked main artery of Greater Fort Lauderdale hotspot Oakland Park.”
The Future of the Mai Kai
At 6:15 PM on January 21st, the Mai Kai sent out the following email, re-affirming its intention to sell or work together with a joint venture partner to keep the Mai Kai legacy alive:
“To properly update our loyal patrons on the future of the Mai-Kai Restaurant & Polynesian Show, we have engaged Transworld Business Advisors to secure a buyer – or joint venture partner – for our historic Mai-Kai location. There are many moving parts to the incredibly valuable Mai Kai legacy, intellectual property and future business possibilities. We are working towards continuing the Mai-Kai legacy… “
Oakland Parkers Express Mixed Feelings
While the Mai Kai is a place where many people have made memories, local residents expressed a variety of opinions regarding their experiences and whether or not the Mai Kai was worth saving.
Living In Oakland Park contacted Mayor Jane Bolin about Mai Kai’s announcement and she said:
Reopening to Be Determined
While the Mai Kai holds fond memories for some, others as can be seen from the comments were not impressed.
A look at the property (pictures below) show that the outside is in need of repair. The condition of the inside of the 26,000 square foot dining complex, except for the kitchen, is unknown.
Whether you loved the Mai Kai or not, if it cannot fully reopen, then South Florida will have lost a piece of its history. Let’s hope that is not the case and that an investor will partner with owners to revive its tiki legacy and bring the Mai Kai back better, stronger and more impressive than ever.