BREAKING: Mai-Kai Restaurant announces plans to reopen in Oakland Park

South Florida Sun Sentinel

Sep 28, 2021 7:50 PM

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Nearly a year after water damage forced the Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show to shut down for extensive repairs, its owners announced Tuesday night that the restaurant has found investors to help reopen in Oakland Park.

“The Mai-Kai will reopen!” wrote the Thornton Family, longtime owners of the Mai-Kai on their Facebook page Tuesday night. “We can’t wait to welcome you back … but until then, please stay turned for updates on the restoration and repairs.”

The announcement ends nearly a year of uncertainty about whether the tiki time capsule would survive.

The Mai-Kai has partnered with the Barlington Group, a Miami-based commercial developer whose tenants include Toasted Bagelry & Deli and multiple Little Havana business such as Blackbird Ordinary, Ball & Chain, 8 Burger and Little Havana Cigar Factory.

The restaurant has also partnered with Mad Room Hospitality, owners of iconic Eighth Street spots Ball & Chain, Los Altos and Taqueria El Mexicano.

“It was this perfect storm of bad luck and too much flooding,” Mai-Kai family member Kern Mattei said of the damage last December. “I knew right away we couldn’t open. The only silver lining was it happened when we were closed and no one was hurt.”

Ever since, Mai-Kai owners have deliberated how to reopen the 26,000-square-foot restaurant – and how to pay for it – and began seeking buyers to help revive the historic building.

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“Once you exceed a certain level of damage, there are life-safety issues,” Stephanie Toothaker, a Fort Lauderdale attorney for the owners, told the Sun Sentinel in January. “To make it more complicated, you’ve got a 64-year-old restaurant that doesn’t meet current building codes.”

“Our search came to an end when we met their team and recognized the passion they share for honoring and preserving the legacy of the Mai-Kai,” the Thornton family wrote on Facebook, referring to Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality.

Brothers and tikiholics Bob and Jack Thornton opened the Mai-Kai on Dec. 26, 1956, on a then-desolate stretch of Federal Highway for $300,000, said to be the most expensive restaurant built that year. An intoxicating hub for Rum Runners, Mai Tais and other tropical kitsch in a glass, the Mai-Kai’s ability to draw levelheaded folks under its tipsy spell has only grown stronger over the decades.

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