the founding father of Tiki

the founding father of tiki

donn beach:

the founding father of tiki

How Ernest Gantt Created the Tiki Culture.

How Did it all Start?...

Born in 1907 in the USA, Ernest Gantt grew up in Limestone County, Texas. In the 1920s, his grandfather’s shipping company would smuggle rum and other goods into the USA from the Caribbean during prohibition. During that time, Ernest would assist his grandfather with smuggling rum from the Caribbean which gave him the chance to learn about rum as well as exotic destinations.

Ernest Gantt decided to forego going to college to continue to travel and explore the Caribbean and the South Pacific for a few years.  He worked on a cargo ship that would sail to Hawaii and Australia, and later spent time island hopping through the South Pacific on various freighters.


The Beginning of Don the Beachcomber…

Once prohibition had ended in 1933, Ernest returned to the USA and opened a bar in Hollywood, California named “Don’s Beachcomber”, later to be called “Don the Beachcomber”.  Allegedly, Don was one of the fake names he used back when he was a bootlegger for his grandfather’s business.  He themed the bar around exotic rums, fresh fruits and syrups, tropical stylings, and a unique atmosphere, telling his customers “If you can’t get to paradise, I’ll bring it to you.”.  His bar served various Cantonese dishes, which he marketed as “South Pacific Cuisine” and had numerous Polynesian statues and carvings, both of which at that time were considered quite exotic since worldwide travel was far more difficult to accomplish than it is in the present day. Ernest’s bar, Don the Beachcomber, became wildly popular, often with lineups out the door.  It was at this bar, various famous Tiki cocktails were created, such as the Zombie, Three Dots and a Dash, and the Pearl Diver.  With the huge success of his bar, Ernest legally changed his name to Donn Beach.


Time in the Military…

In 1942, during World War II, Ernest enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and left his establishments to his ex-wife to run and expand the operation.  During his time in the Air Force, his ex-wife expanded the business to 16 locations.  He was injured when a German U-Boat attacked the ship he was on.  He spent the remainder of his time in the Air Force working at recreation centers, where he created such drinks as the Q.B. Cooler (the predecessor of the Mai Tai), and the Test Pilot.


His Later Years and his Legacy…

Upon returning home from the war in 1945, an arrangement was made where Ernest signed over control of the bars and restaurants and was not allowed to open another Don the Beachcomber in the USA.  Ernest moved to Hawaii, where he continued to build Don the Beachcomber establishments, as Hawaii at that time was not a part of the USA. Ernest Gannt went on to create the world-famous International Market Place in Waikiki, Oahu as well, which he built himself a treehouse office in the middle of the Market Place where he conducted business.

Ernest Gantt eventually retired and spent numerous years travelling between Hawaii and Mo’orea until his death in 1989.

Final Thoughts…

If it had not been for Ernest Gantt, several things may have never come into fruition, things such as: tiki culture, numerous classic tiki cocktail recipes, the use of certain fruits, rums, garnish, and syrups in cocktails, popularizing Cantonese cuisine in North America, and the willingness and mindset to think outside the box in regards to creating restaurants and bars.  Without his commitment to exploration and his courage to build, we would have not had the legacy of tiki culture Donn Beach left behind.