Curious Cbus: What Ever Happened To Kahiki Supper Club? | WOSU Radio

Curious Cbus: What Ever Happened To Kahiki Supper Club?

May 27, 2019

The restaurant scene in Columbus is diverse and vibrant, with culinary destinations appreciated across the county. Decades ago, choices for dining out were much more limited, but there are stil some truly exceptional establishments in Columbus' foodie history.

Among the many restaurants that have come and gone over the years, The Kahiki Supper Club stands out not only as a restaurant, but as a lost cultural and architectural landmark.

Many have fond memories of visiting the restaurant. Matt Bilger wrote into WOSU's Curious Cbus project to ask, "What ever happened to the Kahiki and will it ever come back?"

The Kahiki was the brainchild of restauranteurs Bill Sapp and Lee Henry. After the success of their previous venture, The Top Steakhouse, they wanted to bring a Tiki-themed restaurant to Columbus.

Though Tiki bars appear "exotic," they are actually an American-made fantasy that blended Polynesian imagery, Japanese cuisine and Caribbean cocktails. Tiki-style restaurants and bars began in California in the 1930s and gained popularity after American servicemen returned home from the South Pacific after World War II.

The restaurant, located at 3583 E. Broad St., was designed by local architect Coburn Morgan. Construction started in 1960 and the Kahiki opened its doors in the early part of 1961.

The building was elaborately designed both inside and out. Two large Moai statues with flames bursting from their heads greeted visitors at the entrance. 

The interior was a feast for the senses with fish-filled aquariums, simulated rain forests, thatched huts, gongs and drums, bubbling fountains, tropical cocktails and a giant stone Moai fireplace.

Ownership of the restaurant changed over the years, eventually landing in the hands of Michael Tsao in 1988. Tsao was interested in expanding the Kahiki brand into the frozen food market, and in 1995 he began selling egg rolls in grocery stores.

A few years later, Tsao decided to sell the restaurant to focus on his frozen food business. By that time, the building was in need of expensive repairs, and an offer from Walgreens to buy the land was too good to pass up.

On August 25, 2000, Kahiki closed its doors and the building was later demolished. Tsao had plans to open up a new and improved restaurant on the river in downtown Columbus, but that never came to be.

Though the restaurant is no more, the legacy of Tiki culture lives on in places like the Grass Skirt Tiki Room in downtown Columbus and in the collections of fans who treasure souvenirs from the Kahiki.

Tiki aficionado Doug Motz tansformed his basement into a Tiki lounge to house his collection of memorabilia, including many artifacts from the Kahiki Supper Club. Check out the video below for a tour of Doug's home bar.

 

Have your own question about Columbus' food history? Submit it below for our Curious Cbus series.

_