PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Gift Guide: A Book About The Kahiki

Next up in The 2019 PopCult Gift Guide we go back to a book I reviewed very favorably earlier this year. This is the perfect gift for the Tiki aficianado on your holiday shopping list.

Kahiki Supper Club: A Polynesian Paradise in Columbus
by David Meyers and Elise Meyers Walker with Jeff Chenault and Doug Motz
The History Press
ISBN-13: 978-1626195943
$19.99 (discounted at Amazon)

It was pretty wild to discover that one of the greatest Tiki establishments ever was in nearby Columbus, but that it had been demolished nineteen years ago. This book tells the story of the famed Kahiki Supper Club.

As the book blurb explains, “Inspired by Florida’s famed Mai-Kai restaurant, Bill Sapp and Lee Henry opened the Kahiki Supper Club in 1961. They set out simply to build a nice Polynesian restaurant and ended up establishing the most magnificent one of them all. Patrons lined up for hours to see the celebrities who dined there–everyone from Betty White to Raymond Burr. Outside, two giant Easter Island heads with flames spouting from their topknots stood guard while customers dined in a faux tribal village with thatched huts, palm trees and a towering fireplace moai. One wall featured aquariums of exotic fish and another had windows overlooking a tropical rainforest with periodic thunderstorms. For nearly forty years, the Kahiki was the undisputed center of tiki culture.”

The Ohio-based father-daughter team of Meyers and Meyers Walker were looking for a subject for their next book of local history when both Chenault and Motz urged them to tackle the Kahiki. They opted to include them as co-authors, and the result is a lovely work of history as entertainment.

Lavishly-researched and annotated, with a wealth of color and black-and-white images, Kahiki Supper Club: A Polynesian Paradise in Columbus, covers its subject in a brilliant fashion. This book explores the origins of the restaurant, it’s design and construction, the operation during its heyday, celebrity patrons and the eventual sale of the business and demolition of the building. You know dining at the Kahiki had to be a remarkable experience because folks had to cross a moat and enter between two flaming moai (seen left)

The authors create a narrative that moves smoothly from third-person presentation to an oral history given by the employees, customers and family members of the owners. This is a fascinating story, told very well and it’s a hard book to put down. This is the type of book that makes history so entertaining as a subject.

In addition to telling the story of the Kahiki, the book also presents a few recipes for meals and drinks, and follows the story beyond the closing of the restaurant, to the dispersal of some of the artifacts and architecture of the five-story-high building shaped like a giant outrigger.

The book is a must-read for any fan of Tiki culture, or anybody who was ever lucky enough to experience the Kahiki Supper Club before it was demolished to make way for a Walgreens.

Kahiki lives on as a line of frozen Asian cuisine, which was a project started by the second owner of the club.

It’s a fascinating story, and will make a great gift for anyone with an interest in Tiki, the restaurant business or Columbus. Order it with the ISBN number above, or go to Amazon.