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.
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.
With gratitude for the overwhelming support from our loyal fan base these past days, the Mai-Kai Restaurant family regretfully shares that the temporary closure is due to a weekend flood. While this is disappointing, we are excited to begin the first phase of enhancing both the structure and design of one of the most unique historic dining and entertainment venues in all of South Florida. We are in the process of finalizing the renovation plan and remain committed to providing exceptional and memorable guest service, comfort and amenities. The Hulaween drive-in movie event will take place this Friday night as scheduled! As always, we thank our passionate, loyal patrons for your support.
The Mai-Kai family
#maikai #maikairestaurant #tikibar
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.”
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… “
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.
Many people love the Mai Kai, an iconic part of our city and history; open 64 years and a world renowned tiki restaurant. I have gone there most of my life, best happy hour in town, and am so sad it is closed. I sincerely hope they are able to pull off restoring it and reopening once again.
Went once, enjoyed it. Yes, it will certainly go down in history if it closes for good.
Fort Lauderdale will not be the same without this place.
A unique piece of Fort Lauderdale history that I hope survives.
Saving The MaiKai would also require new management. Last time we were there the facility clearly was run down and the staff looked exhausted and disconnected from any cares of operating the place. Saving it for HISTORICAL VALUE is a worthy mission, but to run the restaurant it will take new enthusiasm and achieving a new level of quality cuisine. That I would want to take part in.
Ok, here’s the deal. The show was spectacular (comparable to something you would see on a cruise ship). The food was mediocre, but the drinks were ample enough to make you think it was better. It happened to be raining the day we went, and the roof was leaking onto our table. So, yeah maybe it’s time for a major revamp or a straight up closure. Just my opinion folks...
Been there a couple of times. Food completely mediocre! I’m not paying expensive food to watch a Polynesian show!
I’ve been to this place a few times and it was pure disappointment. No wonder they’re on the brink of failure and closure. While they are a small business, they have to remain competitive with good food and entertainment options, while keeping competitive prices. Mai-Kai didn’t do that. Time for another (hopefully) small business take over that great piece of real estate. That restaurant is sitting on prime real-estate, if you think about it...
Over the years it has been in desperate repair that wasn't done. Owners didn't care.
Multiple questions on this, apparently they didn’t have enough insurance to deal with the damage, however right now there is a ton of money available from the government for EIDL (emergency impact disaster loan) through the SBA, PPP money to cover payroll, and the property itself could be collateralized... While I love this venue and think it’s an important local landmark, I do wonder how a business that has existed this long is so badly prepared to handle what is a fairly common event - a broken pipe...
Living In Oakland Park contacted Mayor Jane Bolin about Mai Kai’s announcement and she said:
"I have personally met with the family who owns the Mai Kai and they are committed to restoring this historic monument with the partnership of new investors. The City of Oakland Park is committed to helping them attract those investors".
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.
EDITOR, PUBLISHER, WRITER, PHOTOGRAPHER, REALTOR®
Désirée Ávila has called Oakland Park her home for over 33 years. In addition to publishing LivingInOaklandPark.com, Désirée has been featured in print publications, locally and abroad. Désirée was an award winning teacher for 10 years and has a doctoral level education in Educational Technology. She is currently a licensed Florida Realtor® and is committed to a high-level of professionalism.
Désirée consistently professionally develops herself and has earned several different professional designations and certifications in real estate including the PSA, e-Pro, AHWD, SRS, ABR, and SFR. She was also awarded the C2EX, Commitment to Excellence award by the National Association for Realtors (NAR). This award is given to Realtors® that distinguish themselves for their commitment to excellence in the real estate industry.
She is esteemed by her real estate colleagues and has consistently received 5 star reviews from her clients. Her philosophy about real estate is that being a Realtor® is a way of teaching and helping people, and in the process a real estate transaction may occur, that is to say her foremost priority is and has always been about helping others.
She is dedicated to her hometown of Oakland Park and works consistently on building and fostering a strong community. She is passionate about photography and loves to read books about history ; the more detail the better! In addition to English, Désirée is fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, French and Italian.
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