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Opening a tiki bar...

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I've just got preliminary finincing approval to open a tiki bar in Chicago....I'm thinking about Vernon Hills, or other northern suburbs...I'm just now starting to write my business plan...Anybody want to offer advice, tips, suggestions?

Excellent News & congratulations!

If you need some help w/ your biz plan, I'd be glad to take a stab @ any issues/concerns you may have. I'm a MBA candidate & my dissertation is going to be tiki/Hawaiiana related. I've done a lot (& am planning to do a lot more) of research about the "tiki revival", the popularity of tiki, & if there's a viable market for tiki-related things. I'd be glad to share any research w/ you & wouldn't mind you running any ideas by me.

I have practically zero knowledge about the Chicago area though.

Good luck & please let me know if I may be of service!

Tiki Chris
[email protected]

Aloha, Tiki Chris! Brilliant! Thanks for the offer...just a quick note, as I've got some urgent errands to run...I'll definitely run some ideas by you...Alas, I don't know that much about Chicago either...but my financier lives in that area and will only do this if I move there...By the way,in what part of London do you live? I used to live in South Ken... Thanks, Grey


On 2002-11-30 22:16, chefgrey2 wrote:
By the way,in what part of London do you live? I used to live in South Ken...

South Ken

I this isn't a business plan, but here's a thread about what some TC'ers would consider cool for a tiki bar. If your plan comes to fruition, this might help you with some ideas:


GECKO posted on Sun, Dec 1, 2002 1:14 PM

congrats brahda CG2! I love it when I see post on new bars opening! And when someone follows a dream! Good luck!


Oh, wow...I love the response already! Tiki Chris: Wicked! I lived right across from the Brompton Oratory...above the French restaurant called ST. Quentin...you know the one?. Gecko: Mahalo foah da congrats! I tink I goan fly you ovah deah fo carve! On da menu dere's goan be da kine ono local food...and da bes' saimin, loco moco, and Portagee bean soup, dis side da pacific!Maybe manapua. We keep in touch, eh, cuz?


Many congrats to you! But...since a new tiki bar opened there last week, are you becoming concerned about oversaturation? Maybe Chicago can handle it- it is a huge city after all.

Keep us posted on your progress...


martiki......hala kahiki,etc... are in the south 'burbs, and trader vics, and the new bar(rock-a-tiki lounge) are downtown.....if he goes with the north suburbs, i dont really know of anything that is still open up that way.....so it could actually work out pretty good in my opinion...

Verrrry cool to see new stuff opening!


Hala Bullhiki- Isn't Trader Todd's in the north of Chicago? Is that a similar area? The place is so-so at best- but they actually have good drinks there.


GECKO posted on Mon, Dec 2, 2002 1:10 PM

Podagee bean soup OWEEE! Ho, loco moco eww fatning da kine! cuz gon get chicken katsu? dats local. Spicy seafood siamin ho betta den pig betta den poi! LauLau hard get ova dat side, need tea leaf fo rap da meat, I no get no tea leaf in Chicago. ey serve breakfast during lunch too...potagee sausage or spam carved like moai(tiki king)with 2 scoop sticky rice and egg Oweee!
Charsu manapua too if can. If you live in Chicago ho, you gon get some ono grinds coming yo way by da Chef!

I gon be in Florida fo da Hukilau 2003 so if you like go, I can carve em tiki and carve da name of your tiki bar on da front. just let me know cuz.



On 2002-12-02 09:11, chefgrey2 wrote:
Wicked! I lived right across from the Brompton Oratory...above the French restaurant called ST. Quentin...you know the one?.

Never ate there but I walk by it all the time! Our flat's near the Gloucester Road Tube.

Did you ever go to Itsu, Bosphorus Kebabs, or the Hampstead Creperie?

Again, feel free to email me if you have any questions. Good luck.

Tiki Chris
[email protected]


Aloha, and mahalo for responses...Yes, I am a little sworried about opening it in Chicago...but as was pointed out by another post I don't think there is much in the North Chicago suburbs...All's I know is that whenever I visit my friends in Chicago We have to drive all over creation to get to a tiki bar....I do like the mindset that the reason Hala Kahiki is so successful is that it is in the middle of nowhere...that if it was in a trendy area I would've missed the boat by the time I got it set up...I am a chef...I run restaurants...I run them well, but that's all I know how to do...but I've always wanted to run a tiki bar...I've got financing to open whatever I want, but A) I was told it has to be in Chicago area, )B it has to have legs as far as longevity...So, What I wonder most is this...What slant shoul I use to give this thing legs?....Straight Tiki Bar? Tiki Coffee House? Tiki Restauant? Tiki Diner?...Make it more of a Tiki Jazz Club? Give me ideas, Please!......

Gecko: Mahaloz foah da ideas, braddah! I wuz grinding halfway tru reading yo post! Deah ain't no kine local food I can't make Brah...I worked in Maui fo years...Jes wond'rin how authentic I could get widdout scarin' away da haoles...(hey, at least I'm kanaka in spirit)! Aloha, Grey

Congrats on the opportunity. All I know is that Americans like to drink & eat a fat steak. Good food and big portions seems to work. Kind of like the Pantry(LA),Houston's restaurant, or Chuck's of Hawaii.They like to feel like they are being personally taken care of (on the "list"). After a couple of drinks, they like to be interactive with something (attraction).La Bodegita del Medio(Habana, Paris,Mexico city) is known over the world because you can leave a written message on the wall and a signature drink(Hemmingway's Mojito). Part of something that seems to make a memorable experience(tell all their friends). I'm sure that the food would be outstanding. it seems to me that in the food business, consistency is key. Now that I've written a novel here, I realize this is stuff you already know. I'll stick to carving.


Congrats, Chefgrey!

You're living the dream, man!

Here is my humble input. I don't know if you've been to Kowloon in Saugus, MA but they really pack 'em in! The giant Ku greets you on the way in, incredible tiki decor, great food, and powerful drinks!

They started in the 1950's as a small Chinese restaurant and now they've ballooned into a capacity of 1,500 with an extensive Asian menu. A little massive for me at times, but still one of my favorite places for all the reasons I mentioned above. They feature flaming pu pu platters and they make a mean fogcutter!

They also work in conjunction with a comedy club that has played host to comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Rodney Dangerfield.

The crowd is your everyday working class heroes -- no pretentions and definitely not hip. But it's the only place in the suburbs of Massachusetts where you can feel comfortable, have a great meal, and get a Suffering Bastard. What could be better than that?!?

Here's the link for more info and great pics of the restaurant.



Uncle Arty

"I do not shun adventure if it comes my way"

  • Thor Heyerdahl

[ Edited by: stentiki on 2002-12-03 20:20 ]


here are some ideas i have swimming around in my head. good luck!


i think what is most essential is finding out about your location - & the people in & around that location that will most likely come to yr establishment.

will they be working class? yuppies? singles? families?

the main thing is that you'll want to figure out what their values & expectations are. meet their values head on & strive to always go beyond what they are expecting.


i presume y're going to serve food. since y're a chef, that's probably a good consideration. does roy yamaguchi have a restaurant in chicago?


if not you may be able to tap that market (hawaiian regional cuisine) & get some loyal customers before they do.

would you really serve all the food you were describing to gecko? it made me hungry!!! but what evidence do you have that the people in yr potential location will want that? how expensive will it be to ship some of those ingredients to chicago?

trader vic's & other bars:

how will you differentiate yrself from trader vic's? as an alternative for people that would normally go to tv's? as a more local tv's? as more upscale or more affordable than tv's?

why should people go to your bar rather than other existing ones?

yr financier:

what does s/he know about tiki? how did you convince him/her that opening the bar is a good idea? do yr ideas about what constitutes a 'cool tiki bar' mesh w/ his/her ideas?

what knowledge does s/he have of the area? why does s/he want the place to be in chicago?

will s/he be a silent partner?


i think y're really doing yrself a big favor coming to tc to ask for advice.

have you thought about asking tc members who make money w/ tiki-related businesses for more specific advice?

also, consider checking out


as well as


as gov organisations they are legally bound to give you free advice. & should be able to hook you up w/ a (free) counsellor best suited for yr needs.

sba.gov has a ton of excellent advice about writing biz plans, etc.

take care & please keep us posted.

tiki chris

[ Edited by: Tiki Chris on 2002-12-04 01:43 ]

Yeah, the whole key is location. I've just read a whining missive via Tiki News from some dj whose night at King Tiki in New Hampshire appears to have done down like a bag of shite. Of course it's the 'dopey' locals who are at fault because they prefer music from the 80's & Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The reality is that to make any Tiki bar/restaurant work is to count the local hipster crowd out of the equation entirely, and make it a place where the locals want to go to. My brother and his wife have very little appreciation of Tiki, but they spend more time and a lot more money in Trader Vic's, London, than I do because it's local to them, they can drink and eat late, and they can usually get a decent table.

So, find out who the locals are and pitch the scheme at them.

Trader Woody

Aloha, Chris and Woody! Thanks for the input! Yes, I have been milling those thoughts around in my head...Writing a biz plan is a daunting task at this stage...It'll probably take about six months to write...I plan to visit Chicago several times over the next few months to figure a few of those questions out....My financier...my best friend for 20 years has made his fortune, but he lives in Chicago and so it has to be based there...He would be a silent partner until I paid him off and then it would be mine...I would serve Hawaiian Regional cuisine...as I have worked with David Paul Johnson, Mark Ellman, etc... but I do have concerns as to not make this a food heavy restaurant per se...maybe just serve appetizers and desserts and by making it more of a Jazz bar, then I could get the customers that don't come in expecting rave and Britney Spears...but would be more accepting of exotica, Louis Prima, Rat Pack, and more traditional and current Hawaiian music...I can't get enough of Ka'au Crater Boys, or Sistah Robi Kahakalau....I'm kinda shunning the Grotto theme...but going more for a heavily tikied main bar...but with more of a Shag-lounge theme all around it...sitting areas..like little living rooms.... I'll post more later...as you guys give me more input! Mahalo, Grey


my 2 centavos:

Decor: That old Tiki Central thread on "The perfect tiki bar" is a good place to start. Visit as many existing places as you can. But mainly keep it dark, dark, dark with subdued colored lighting. Please, no strings of little white lights!

Drinks: The most important thing after decor IMNSHO. I can't understand why restaurant after restaurant invests so much thought and expense on good food and food service staff and practically ignores the quality of their cocktail staff. I think any serious bar or restaurant should have a bar manager that has at least 5 years of experience in bartending with a complete knowlege of the history of cocktails (esp. tropical drinks in this case) and how to make them. Fine restaurants often employ a sommelier for their wine. This may not be necessary for your proposed restaurant but the bar manager should have extensive knowlege of wine and beer as well as cocktails.

Once a bar manager is found they should be personally involved in training each member of the bar staff, making sure they learn how to make the drinks the right way and that they are consistently of high quality. One sure way to ensure consistency is to require all bartenders measure the ingredients. Every drink at the Tiki Ti is carefully measured no matter how many times they have made it. The same goes for Trader Vic's. Well, at least at the Beverly Hills location where the bartenders seem to have the most experience and the drinks are consistently great. With the exception of one bartender, at Emeryville the bartenders are fairly young and from my experiences the quality is hit or miss.

To use a glaring example, the way the bartenders at Taboo Cove were trained was a joke! The average customer may have never had a tropical drink made the original way with fresh juice, etc. So, they may not like it because it seems too sour compared to their last Pina Colada or Sex On The Beach. But there is no reason why such a customer can't learn. Provide a cocktail menu at the bar that informs how each drink is made with care in the orginal way. But stick to your guns and don't let your staff leave ingredients out just because a few people are squeamish about the taste. If your bartenders don't like such attention to detail they can go pour beers and jager shots at some other bar.

Buy and use fresh limes, lemons, and oranges. Good restaurants buy fresh produce for their food, why can't they use fresh citrus? Why many bars buy limes to put in a gin and tonic or lemons to drop in a Hefeweizen, but still make drinks with sweet and sour and margarita mix is beyond me.

The tropical drink menu doesn't have to be huge. A dozen or so well-made classics along with a few originals should be fine. Served in tiki mugs of course. I like the idea of having both a tropical drink menu and regular cocktail menu.

Food: I think a modernized version of polynesian is a good bet these days. Lighter than the original, often deep-fried polynesian. Lots of tropical fruits in the dishes. More creative with combinations of asian and polynesian ingredients. Bring in varieties of seafood that are less common and aren't being overfished. Flaming foods and deserts!

Service: Can't overemphasize this one enough. It will make or break a night out for me. I have worked in food service in the past and as I remember if the management are a pleasure to work with than the staff will work harder and provide better service. When your entire staff has pride in the place and cares about whether or not the restaurant succeeds it is obvious to the customers. I got that feeling at the Mai Kai, from the maitre'd down to the bathroom attendant.

Music: Of course I prefer a mix of Hawaiian, exotica, and lounge music, played at a low volume. Trader Vic's does this perfectly, vs. the Tiki Ti: their classic rock radio blaring is the only bad thing about the place. Occasional live lounge music may bring in customers.


this quote is from the "another TIKI bar going down" topic started by thebaxdog. i think my reply is more applicable here though.

On 2002-12-05 06:59, thebaxdog wrote:
This report from Terence Gunn, DJ and Bon Vivant formerly of Seattle:

...Unfortunately, Portsmouth is way behind the times, completely lacks sophistication, and has no love for jazz; not to mention is a very small town. All the punters who frequent King Tiki are still stuck in the late 1980s; still into punk, new wave, heavy metal, and alternative (as well as, of course, rap and hip-hop). Lots of dopey college kids dressed in drab drinking
Pabst Blue Ribbon out of a can...

aren't these things that should have been realized before going ahead & opening a tiki bar?

it's a shame that these folks have an unsuccessful biz & that another tiki bar is folding. but it's also a shame that it even got to this stage. i love tiki, but i'd be a fool to start a tiki bar in my particular neighborhood in south kensington.

CHEFGREY2: i think this is what trader woody was talking about earlier. clearly, the tiki bar in Portsmouth was created w/out understanding the values & expectations of their most likely customers. keep in mind, that most new businesses fail & one of the main reasons - (if not THE main reason) for new business failure is lack of preliminary research.

Tiki Chris

Tiki Chris wrote:
i think this is what trader woody was talking about earlier

Indeed it was.
I was struck by the arrogant tone of the post, and the insinuation that the failure of his jazz night was somehow the idiot locals fault. With that kind of distain for customers it's no surprise that they are going to go elsewhere.

On a different note, I've been wondering what the common thread is that links all the really successful Tiki Bars (Apart from the obvious - decor). The best I can come up with is the fact that most have a bar area where you are more than welcome just to have a few drinks, as well as a seperate restaurant area. That way you catch two sets of consumers. Drinkers and eaters. If you are really successful, the eaters will have to spend extra time drinking in the bar area before they can get a seat!

Trader Woody


[i]On 2002-12-05 08:33, Trader Woody wrote:

On a different note, I've been wondering what the common thread is that links all the really successful Tiki Bars (Apart from the obvious - decor). The best I can come up with is the fact that most have a bar area where you are more than welcome just to have a few drinks, as well as a seperate restaurant area.

Trader Woody

i think that a success factor like that is more a common thread that links really successful restaurants/bars in general & is not exclusive to tiki bars.

but, you're right, it is a great idea (used by hip, happening one-off establishments, upper-end fancy-schmancy places, & chain restaurants like olive garden) & is very applicable to tiki bars.

as far as what distinguishes a successful tiki bar, i think the jab's post just about sums it up. but on top of what he was saying is catering to yr specific crowd.

for example, here in london we got slp & we got tv's. both, imo, are great tiki bars & both seem to be financially successful (i'm positive about tv's, not sure how slp is really doing though). i think they're both great b/c i'm really into tiki bars - i seek them out. i like high end, low end & in between. however, most patrons @ slp are not like most customers @ tv's, regardless of both establishments being of the same genre.

i know a lot of people that would like tv's & i know a lot of people that would like slp, but i only know a very few people that would really enjoy both on equal terms as tiki bars in their own rights.


This is a great thread. I've been toying with the idea of opening a place in Phoenix somewhere. I'm nowhere near actually moving on this, I'm still researching what it would take to start it, researching small businesses, liquor laws, picking the brains of people who have run successful establishments etc...

This thread has become great reading for anyone who's even remotely interested in what it takes to start a hopefully successful busines.

Chef, I certainlly wish you the best of luck, wishing for days bygone is one thing, but working to create new experiences is even better!

Luki posted on Sat, Apr 19, 2003 10:53 AM


How I missed this thread before I'll never know...it's been a while since you posted so maybe you already found a location, but I think you'd have much better success out in Schaumburg / Hoffman Estates than in Vernon Hills...bars / clubs up in that area tend not to do well.

If you can afford to get in someplace near Woodfield in Schaumburg, you have a really good chance of being VERY successful.

When Bahama Breeze opened up in Schaumburg, there was a 4-hour wait every night for probably the first 8 months of operations...and their food and drink are decent but nothing memorable. (for those of you not familiar with BB it's a restaurant / bar that's part of a chain...more Jamaican in its focus than polynesian)

I would say your "hot zone" in that area would be within:
Algonquin Rd. / Meacham Rd. area (northeast)
Algonquin Rd. / Roselle Rd. area (northwest)
Schaumburg Rd. / Golf Rd. area (southwest)
Higgins Rd. / Rte. 53 area (southeast)

How's the project coming in general?


I am all for a tiki bar in the Vernon Hills area since I live only 10 miles north of there.But no matter where you open it, I wish you the best of luck.

mosart posted on Thu, Nov 9, 2023 3:36 PM

Hello! First of all, congratulations on getting your funding approved, that's a big step! I opened a coffee shop a couple of years ago and when it comes to choosing a location, I would suggest thinking about the vibe and demographics of the local community. One part of the city may be more family-oriented, while other suburbs may have a younger, hipper crowd. Also, zoning regulations - make sure your tiki bar concept complies with local ordinances. When writing your business plan, review community forums - gold for networking, talking to experienced entrepreneurs will help you highlight what makes your tiki bar different and how it will clarify your plans for engaging with the community.

[ Edited by mosart on 2023-11-09 21:15:29 ]

Hey mosart, you are replying to a 20 year old thread :) One of the problems on a site that has as much history as Tiki Central.

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