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Mauna Loa Article

At the risk of driving Mauna Loa mug prices up even higher than 150 apiece, I bring you... What I found in the microfiche files at the Detroit library. I warn you,the writer goes off tiki-topic every once in a while, but I still think this is a spectacular vintage news find. Stay tuned for the accompanying photos, soon to make their way to tikifish.com....

The Detroit News, August 20, 1967
The Mauna Loa: Million Dollar Gamble, Polynesian Style

Money lenders take a cynical view of the chances for success of a plush restaurant . Loans to build them often are backstopped with demands, that the building be designed in such a manner that it may be converted into another use.
A top eastside restaurant, for example, had to be located an built so that if necessary it could be made into a funeral parlour. Fortunately, the transition has not had to take place.
Robert L. Fenton, an astute 37 year old lawyer, is well aware of the mortality rate and high risk of his latest enterprise. He is president and leading stockholder of what may be the Midwest's mnost lavish new eating place, the Mauna Loa, nest to the financially troubled hotel, the St. Regis, on West Grand Boulevard.
Fenton is not thinking the unthinkable. And neither are his investors, which include such sports celebrities as Al Kaline, Hank Aguirre, Milt Plum, Walter Burkemo, Wayne Walker, Ted Lindsay and Gail Gogdill. the 42 others in the syndicate are such business and professional men as Eugene Bordinat Jr, of the J. L. Hudson Co, and many Detroit lawyers. The architect and contractor also have a slice.

The restaurant will cost 1.6 million when all the bills are paid for such things as imported lamps, weatherised palm trees, ($1,500 each), authentic South Pacific artifacts, lutes and indoor waterfalls and pools.

"We beleive it is the most expensive restaurant ever built of it's kind in the Midwest:, says Fenton. "But we don't have a doubt that it will not be supported in Detroit".

One of the contractors pointed out that if it does fail the structure is so designed that it can be converted into an office building. The interior decorations would be yanked out, the waterfalls dammed and the two-level building divided up into offices.

But what a shame, say most people who already have dined in the place which opened last week.

And thus would collapse the heady dream Fenton has been dreaming since 1964. A partner in the law firm of Fenton, Nederlander, Tracy, and Dodge, the restaurantbusinessis a new venture for the tax and corporation law specialist who six years ago parlayed his friendship with golf pro Walter Burkemo into a career managing sports celebrities.

"It was about six years ago that Wally Burkemo, then the pro at Franklin Hills, gave me a hurry-up call," recalls Fenton, a University of Michigan Graduate.

"He was coming on strong in the National Open, and tolk me he was beseiged by offers to endorse things in case he won. Wally wanted me to handle the negotiations. I flew to the course. But he blew a couple of putts and ended up fourth or something and some of the offers faded away. But he wanted me to handle his investments. That was the beginning."

Fenton, who speaks several languages including Russian, says that a few years ago Al Kaline heard about tax benefits that could come from such things as deferred compensation programs, and wanted him to handle his contracts.

"The word spread in sports circles," said Fenton, an intelligence officer for the air force in the Korean War. " A Few years ago these big sports stars were spending their money as if it was water. Then they started thinking about salting some of it away when they got too old to play. One word led to another and pretty soon about 15 top stars were letting me handle their contracts."

Includued were such people as Roger Maris, Pat Studstill, Carl Sweetan, Marty Pavelich and the others now in the Mauna Loa syndicate.

Fenton's labors for the spots figures not only include helping them get new and sweeter contracts, but advising them how to invest their surplus money.

It was his roster of celebrities that led to the reaization of the Mauna Loa.
"I was on the West Coast for a client", says Fenton, "and got the idea of building a Polynesian type restaurant. That type of place booms everywhere they're built. I figured Detroit was ready for one. I talked it over with the sports people and they agreed it would make a good investment.

"Hank Aguirre thought perhaps a Mexican restaurant would be better, but Hank's Mexican and partial to that food. Finally everyone, including Hank, wanted to take a slice. We found other business and professional people here who also agreed to invest and that's the way it started."

Fenton's idea, based on exhaustive reseach, was to build a place so exotically plush it would dazzle Detroit diners. Once eyes get accustomed to the romantic darkness of the interior as conceived by Florian Gabriel, the decorator, M. George Nakashima and George Pelham Head, the designers, the sight indeed is quite bedazzling. Sounds are muted by heavy rattan ceilings and pandanus leaf walls.

For more than a year Fenton's law office in the Guardian Building became the stagin building for the restaurant, Special crockery, silverware and trays were stored in one section of the offices awaiting a building.

Fenton has been beset by labor problems, material shotages, and other headaches. He expected to have the place open in May.

"Key personnel such as Joe Spada, his "mixologist" who carries the secret recipes for exotic rum-based drinks in his head; John S. Karydes ,catering manager, B. F. Enriquez, for erly of Washington's Mayflower Hotel, now assistant manager of the Mauna Loa, Kurt Mecklenburg, a volatile west german chef and Jimmy Mark, a goateed chinese cook, have been on the payroll for months.

His General, manager, Jerome L. Cohen, former manager of Chicago;s Playboy Club, was assig ed a year ago. Cohen also is an investor.

"To get these men", says Fenton, "we had to hire them even if we didn't have a restaurant ready"
Detroit-born, Fenton once workec for the Atomic Energy Commission as an intelligence officerf and observed seven atomic detonations.

For the past several weeks, he has lived at Mauna Loa, named after a live Hawaiian volcano, he had to get his meals elsewhere, Pots in the huge stainles steel kitchen did not start bubbling tilll last tuesday.

But the lighted waterfalls flowing from nearly every corner and even behind the huge bar, romantic lights glowing from stuffed blowfish, shells and papier mache globes, werre a welcoming sight to Fenton and his associates,

Before it oopened Fenton reflected some of his apprehension by interviewing passersby watching workmen put finishing touches on the Mauna Loa's entrance.

"Do you think it will be a good place?" he asked a pair of secretaries who work at the General Motors Bilding, across the street.

"Well, it ought to be" replied one, "i hear it cost $21 million to build"."That shook me a little", says Fenton, "because if the public gets the idea it cist so much to build the prices will be to high for such peoople as the secretaries and workingmen to eat"."Our idea is just the opposite. We made it lavish". continues Fenton. "a shopwpiece to attract people, but the food prices will not be any higher than an ordinary restaurant"

HE pointed to an 8 page menu listing such esoteric far east foods as

cha Siu, Avaku Pillow, and Napuka Fishfang, carrying price tabs of $1.75 to $2.00. The high ticket foods will be the traditional American steaks, the restauarant will feature far east foods, but there also will be gourmet dishes from all parts of europe and the United States.

"Building a restaurant has been an education for all of us." - Fenton mused as he stalked through the dimly lighted dining areas, crossing bridges over strweams created by the water gushing over real lava.
" But the delays and extra expenses we ran into have been worth it," headds. He sipped a tall drink created by Spada. "In fact we were so ecxcited about i we may build another just like it in another city".

Chances are good that Fenton,l exhaustedfrom months of tension, will take a breather.

When the doors finally opened last Tuesday, Fenton sighed and reckoned he now knows what it feels like to be a mother.

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