Welcome to the Tiki Central 2.0 Beta. Read the announcement
Celebrating classic and modern Polynesian Pop

Tiki Central / Locating Tiki

The Tiki, Madison, WI (restaurant)

Pages: 1 14 replies

Name: The Tiki
Type: restaurant
Street: 906 Regent Street
City: Madison
State: WI
Status: Defunct

Not much to go other that this matchbook I picked up.

I like the type font and Tiki

Touch of the Islands

The old phone number indicates 1960's vintage.

Like to hear more about this one.

[ Edited by: Dustycajun 2012-05-16 21:07 ]

The Tiki was opened in the spring of 1962 by Sicilian-American Matt Pelletter in a building owned by one of his brothers at 906 Regent Street in Madison, Wisconsin. The building had once been Jimmie’s Spaghetti house, a popular Italian restaurant owned by another Sicilian, Jimmie Puccio.

Pelletter’s ideas for The Tiki were accumulated during his visits to Chicago. The Tiki’s menu featured “Polynesian” food and tropical drinks including the Mai Tai, Scorpion, and a house drink Pelletter created himself called “Varoom” – a drink so powerful he supposedly refused to serve customers more than two.

It was a rather strange place to open a Polynesian restaurant. Located in the Italian Greenbush neighborhood of Madison, the intersection of Regent and Park streets was nicknamed "Spaghetti Corners" by Truax Field servicemen in the 1940’s.

It’s not surprising then that The Tiki did not last long. In the Spring of 1964, only two years after opening, the building and restaurant were sold to yet another Sicilian, Josie Magnasco Schuepbach who replaced The Tiki with… wait for it… Josie’s Spaghetti House! Josie’s actually became a fixture in Madison staying open all the way until July 2004 when a fire finally caused it to close. The building remained vacant for a few years until being demolished in 2009 making way for the Park Regent Apartments building.

The Tiki was not Matt Pelletter’s first attempt at a Polynesian restaurant in Madison. Prior to opening The Tiki he had The Beachcomber at 724 W. Washington Ave. It had once been The Fox Den, a restaurant owned by his parents, Joseph and Magdalena Pellitteri (Matt Pelletter changed the spelling of his last name). The venture ended when the city of Madison decided to razz the building as part of a big urban renewal project.

Matthew F. Pelletter:
Born June 25, 1914, Chicago, IL
Died June 27, 1990, Madison, WI


[ Edited by: kenbo-jitsu 2013-08-28 16:33 ]

Nice research! And a nice twist that for once it was not a Chinese place that went Polynesian. Plus yet another place apparently inspired by the Chicago Don The Beachcomber.

I made some corrections to my original post above and now I have a few new things to add – mostly newspaper advertisements.

First, recall that before The Tiki, Matt Pelletter owned an earlier Polynesian restaurant called The Beachcomber and that he had to close this restaurant when the city of Madison wanted to buy (and demolish) the building as part of a city redevelopment project.

(Madison) Wisconsin State Journal, June 22, 1962
This early ad shows that The Tiki is really just Matt Pelletter’s Beachcomber restaurant, moved and renamed.

Here is the location. The structure was built in 1941 to be Jimmie’s Spaghetti House so there is nothing Polynesian about the architecture. Whatever tropical décor The Tiki had was likely limited to the inside. I could be wrong about that I guess. It would be nice to see a photo of The Tiki when it was open but I’ve had no luck finding one yet.

This photo is from 2008 so keep in mind that the building you see here has been gutted by a fire and then has stood vacant for four years. You’re not seeing it at its best.

(Madison) Wisconsin State Journal, September 1, 1962
“Touch ‘O the Island” Dining
The word “Beachcomber” is kept for a while.

(Madison) Wisconsin State Journal, October 20, 1962
I think this is my favorite. The logo tiki starts making appearances. Anyone care to speculate from where the tiki graphic might have come?

(Madison) The Capital Times, December 3, 1962
Note the Italian food specials. This is The Tiki adapting to business in “Spaghetti Corners”.

(Madison) Wisconsin State Journal, March 29, 1963
“... where the lure of fabled island enchantment awaits you!”

(Madison) Wisconsin State Journal, August 16, 1963
No more “Beachcomber”. It’s just “The Tiki” now. There was live entertainment and dancing on weekends.

(Madison) Wisconsin State Journal, February 21, 1964
The ads got simpler toward the end. The Tiki always had “Fish on Friday” specials and it was often closed on Sundays.

(Madison) Wisconsin State Journal, April 25, 1964
This last little ad seems almost desperate. Not only are potential diners informed The Tiki has Italian and American foods, they’re reassured that it has nothing else! Never mind all that “Touch ‘O the Island” stuff we were talking about last year. The Tiki closed within weeks of this ad.

We know that the tiki bar/restaurant concept started in Los Angeles and that it spread first to other population centers – notably San Francisco, Seattle and later Chicago. We know it eventually came to permeate the mainland where coast-to-coast a tiki bar/restaurant might be found even in many smaller towns. I consider Matt Pelletter to be a great example of this expansion. He encountered the Polynesian restaurant concept by seeing the Chicago Don the Beachcomber, or perhaps the Palmer House Trader Vic’s, and he was inspired to try bringing the idea to his own home town. Obviously, not everyone so inspired would succeed. Restaurants are a tough business even in the best of circumstances, and I think The Tiki’s biggest problem was just its location. People went to Spaghetti Corners for, well, spaghetti. And even though The Tiki had Italian food, and even though their Italian food was probably excellent, the tropical name and theme just put it at a disadvantage there. If it had been located elsewhere in Madison, perhaps it would have lasted longer.

Great post (for me at least)! I used to live in Madison, dined at Josie's (The Tiki) once, and proposed to my wife right across the street 20 years after The Tiki closed. Surely I would have proposed to her at The Tiki instead had it still been in business!

Or maybe it was that horrifying logo tiki that did the place in..

[ Edited by: happy buddha 2013-08-28 17:32 ]

The one in the ad looks a little like a baby "Creature from the Black Lagoon" :) However, the one on the matchbook, together with the type face, is as fine an example of Tiki modernism as any.

And the name change makes yet another good case for the Pre-Tiki to Tiki period switch around that time. Wonder if he ever did a "Beachcomber" logo.

[ Edited by: bigbrotiki 2013-08-28 22:15 ]

Let’s look at The Tiki’s earlier incarnation as “The Beachcomber”.

Matthew Pelletter’s parents, Joseph and Magdalena Pellitteri (or sometimes Bellitteri or Belliteri), were both immigrants from Bagheria, Sicily. They met and were married while living in Chicago and Matthew, their first child, was born there. In 1915 the family moved to Madison, Wisconsin. When prohibition ended in 1933, Joseph decided to open a tavern. The city of Madison issued him liquor license #5 for “The Fox Den” at 724 W. Washington Avenue. The Fox Den became one of the first “spaghetti houses” in Madison when Joseph began serving free spaghetti dinners on Saturdays.

(Madison) Wisconsin State Journal, June 16, 1933

The Fox Den later became “Pellitteri’s”.

(Madison) Wisconsin State Journal, June 13, 1947

When Joseph passed away in 1954, Matt and his eight brothers took over.

(Madison) Wisconsin State Journal, October 12, 1956

It was May 1960 when Pellitteri’s went Polynesian.

(Madison) The Capital Times, May 20, 1960

(Madison) The Capital Times, May 26, 1960
“Trader-Mat” is obviously Matthew Pelletter.

(Madison) Wisconsin State Journal, July 29, 1960
“Beachcomber” has now been added to the name. “Pellitteri’s Beachcomber Lounge”.

(Madison) Wisconsin State Journal, August 11, 1960
Here is confirmation of the “Varoom” cocktail mentioned in Catherine Tripalin Murray’s “Cook’s Exchange” article I cited as a reference in my first post. “Matty” was Matt Pelletter’s nickname. Finally, check out the logo at the bottom. If it isn't inspired by the Don the Beachcomber logo, I don’t know what is.

. .
(Madison) The Capital Times, September 8, 22, & 29, 1960
Some more of the drinks. No, “Nnayttam” is not Tahitian. It’s “MattyAnn” spelled backwards. Matt’s wife's name was Ann. I haven't figured out who "Pimm" was.

(Madison) The Capital Times, October 14, 1960
"Pellitteri's" gets dropped from the name. It's either the "Beachcomber Lounge" now or simply "The Beachcomber".

(Madison) The Capital Times, October 6, 1961
In late 1961, “The Beachcomber” began serving food.

Sometime around March 1962, The Beachcomber moved to 906 Regent Street where it became The Tiki. In late April the Pellitteri family sold 724 W. Washington Avenue to the city of Madison’s “Triangle Redevelopment” project which ended up demolishing the building.

And the rest we’ve already covered. I was pleased though to find this last ad as it reveals The Tiki’s exact opening day, June 6th, 1962.

(Madison) Wisconsin State Journal, June 3, 1962

Many thanks to Catherine Tripalin Murray ( http://www.greenbushcookbooks.com ) for her invaluable help.

[ Edited by: kenbo-jitsu 2013-09-24 10:41 ]

Not sure if you're joking, but the Pimm's Cup was a popular drink. "Pimm's is a brand of fruit cups, but may also be considered a liqueur. It was first produced in 1823 by James Pimm and has been owned by Diageo since 1997. Its most-popular product is Pimm's No. 1 Cup."

On 2013-09-11 14:16, TikiTacky wrote:
Not sure if you're joking...

Ha! No, I wasn't joking. I'm clueless. Thanks for filling me in.

Great research kenbo.

This just keeps getting better and better for me. I used to live at 726 W. Main St. in Madison, just one block and 22 years away from "The Beachcomber"!

[ Edited by: TropicDrinkBoy 2013-09-11 21:13 ]

Fine Tiki archeology indeed! The whole history of Polynesian pop exemplified in one locale.

Thought I might add to this discussion.

I took this pic today of the original Tiki from the Beachcomber. It is about 4 1/2' tall. After leaving Regent Street, The Tiki resided with us in Middleton, WI. It then accompanied my brother to California for a few years. Around 1995, it returned to Madison, back near the Greenbush (Brittinham) neighborhood. Presently, the Tiki is now on my home in Colorado, ironically overlooking Lake Dillon and the Marina's TIKI BAR.

Mathew Pelletter was my grandfather. The Tiki was handcarved by my father.

[ Edited by: rickythecat 2014-01-02 21:21 ]

On 2014-01-02 21:15, rickythecat wrote:
Mathew Pelletter was my grandfather. The Tiki was handcarved by my father.

This is wonderful! An actual artifact from the restaurant. Thank you so much for taking the time to share it.

I've been holding out hope that either Catherine Tripalin Murray's inquiries, or this thread itself, would eventually attract family members. I'm very glad you decided to post. Welcome to Tiki Central! You are absolutely welcome to clarify and correct any information in this thread on your grandfather's restaurant and, hopefully, add to it as well.

It is very good that you are here. :)

Pages: 1 14 replies