Whenever I drive down Pacific Coast Highway, I pass Don the Beach Combers restaurant. Don’s is not really new like most would think, the history of the Don’s goes back to the 1930s. The Founder was born Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt in Limestone County Texas in 1907 and left home in 1926 and traveled around the word including the islands of the Caribbean and the South Pacific. He was a former bootlegger during prohibition and in 1934 opened up Don’s Beachcomber cafe in Hollywood and a later changed the name to Don the Beachcomber along with his name to Don Beach. Don’s gained popularity due to it’s tropical decorated theme and wonderful tiki drinks made from various rums and Don’s own secret recipe.
Don had several exotic drinks that patrons loved such as the Zombie, Navy Grog, Tahitian Rum Punch and many other cocktails along with what customers considered wonderful cuisines but were nothing more than standard Cantonese dishes served with flair. There were several chains of Don’s across the country with the help of his wife in the 1940’s and 1950’s but his competitor Trader Vic’s ( another Tiki themed restaurant) had more locations then Don’s and both of them claimed they invented the Mai Tai.
Gantt Divorced his wife and business partner in the 1950s and because she had control over the restaurants he wasn’t allowed to open any more locations in the United States so moved to Hawaii before Statehood to continue his operation. He settled in Waikiki and opened up his Polynesian Village and International Marketplace in Honolulu and had his office up in the center of a giant Banyan tree. He also built an elaborate houseboat in hopes it would catch on as floating housing in Hawaii but it never did and he lived and retired in it Moorea. It was destroyed later after several hurricanes and Don died later in Honolulu.
There’s been a revival of the restaurant since the early 2000s starting in Disney’s California Adventure but no alcohol was served along with the newer Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach, CA. Unfortunately I’ve been to Don’s in Huntington Beach and tried the Mai Tia and Zombie and they seem to be missing correct ingredients. I’ve used recipes from vintage cocktail books that are more flavorful. On the other hand, Don used a “secrete recipe” that he would change from time to time so no one may really know what his original recipe for his drinks are. I have one recipe for a Zombie I use which I find is very tasty and after serving it to a friend of mine a few days ago he now realizes why they call it a Zombie, because he felt like one afterwards. Give it a try and let me know what you think.