The tiki torch has been passed. Jimmy Buffett has opened his latest restaurant/club in the same Waikiki location where friend and Hawaiian music icon Don Ho had played for nearly a decade.
"Don and I talked about me doing this in his place, and he was OK with it," Buffett said. "He knew his health was preventing him from performing as often as he had, and he understood the tiki torch was being passed."
Outrigger Hotels & Resorts' executives approached Buffett three years ago about using the venue, in the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel, for his Jimmy Buffett's at the Beachcomber restaurant.
"I told Outrigger I wouldn't go into this unless it's completely compatible with what Don wants to do," Buffett said. "Our plan was to have Don involved and play when he was healthy."
Ho died in 2007.
David Carey, president and CEO of Outrigger Enterprises Inc., said Buffett's presence in "Ho's home" is "the perfect transition for what Don represented."
"Jimmy embodies Don's beach life spirit and the love of the music and cultural talent that embodies Hawaii."
Buffett said the reported $15 million spent on constructing the 21,000-square-foot, 500-seat restaurant was "all my dough." (Buffett's Las Vegas Margaritaville is said to be the nation's top-grossing restaurant.)
The faltering economy never gave Buffett pause to consider delaying construction.
"Even with 10% unemployment, 90% are still working," he said. "Before 9/11 people wanted to come see us perform. After 9/11 they had to come because they needed us. The world is crazy, and people are scared to death."
Keeping it simple
Creating the right kind of restaurant is like planning a music tour, said Buffett, because "the basics have to be right."
"We're not a fancy restaurant, but you have to have good chow," he said. "We know what we do good and don't try to be fancy. The restaurants adapt to the local culture musically and with food preferences."
Jimmy Buffett's at the Beachcomber occupies a prominent second-floor location along Waikiki's main street, Kalakaua Avenue. It features a wrap-around bar with inset, red-orange floor lighting designed to look like a lava flow. Seating booths are bordered by a wall and floor shaped like a breaking wave. Guests can dine inside the restaurant or on an open-air lanai.
The restaurant serves a Hawaii specialty plate lunch: chicken, teriyaki beef or fish with rice and macaroni salad.
Though most of his customers are tourists, "we've always insisted on doing things to attract locals," Buffett said.
He's especially excited about attracting Japanese visitors, which "is a distinct challenge because they have no idea who I am," Buffett said.
"I've never performed in Japan, so it's a unique situation to be in a location [like Hawaii] where 50% of the people who come here don't know who you are," he said. "But they like the beach lifestyle, so ... "
The restaurant is also home to the Honolulu Surfing Museum & Bar. Buffett purchased, for a reported $1 million, the entire Santa Barbara Surfing Museum collection, which includes iconic Californian and Hawaiian surfboards, photographs, guitars and ukuleles.
Buffett said another reason he opened the Hawaii restaurant was simply to give himself an excuse to visit Waikiki and surf.
"You never know when I'm going to show up on stage or out at Queen's Surf," he said.