In their newest collaboration, David Meyers and Elise Meyers Walker have teamed up with Kahiki enthusiasts Jeff Chenault and Doug Motz to bring another institution back to life.
Writing about Columbus history is a family affair for father-daughter team David Meyers and Elise Meyers Walker. Together, the two have covered the Ohio Penitentiary and the one-time heart of downtown Columbus, the Lazarus store. In their newest collaboration, the pair has teamed up with Kahiki enthusiasts Jeff Chenault and Doug Motz to bring another institution back to life.
Why write about the Kahiki?
Elise: For our previous book, we found that everyone has a Lazarus story. We were looking for something in that vein.
David: Several days a week, I go to the main library Downtown. Doug Motz was managing the gift shop and said we should [write about] the Kahiki. Then Jeff [Chenault] would come see us when doing book signings. He said that we should do a book about Kahiki and introduced us to the Fraternal Order of Moai.
Elise: We're tourists in this Kahiki world. They're living it.
Can you share any personal memories?
Elise: One of the pictures in the book is from my 10th birthday. This would have been 1993, after [original owner] Bill Sapp sold it. I distinctly remember wanting to go there for my birthday and loving it.
It was a tiki bar that appealed to children, too.
Elise: Kahiki had birds, fish, a rainforest and a kids' menu. There are a number of pictures in the book of Bill Sapp's daughter when she was young.
David: We had a story of another girl whose parents went late in the evening, and she would sleep up in the offices.
Who worked at the Kahiki?
David: Kahiki was reflective of the community at the time. The female staff that came to work there were the brides of service men.
Elise: People from a number of different countries were trying to pass off as Polynesians. There were a lot of Cuban refugees.
David: In the book, we reproduce an application for a job. It's as simple as it gets.
Elise: It's a file card: name, age, uniform size and when you're ready to work.
Let's talk about tiki mugs. The Kahiki made its own pottery?
Elise: Bill Sapp's wife, Marcy, started out designing the pottery. It was loosely based on stuff they'd seen when they were traveling.
David: She was a model, but she was also an artist. She took it upon herself to design it all. They were going to have the mystery bowls made in Mexico and shipped here. They all arrived broken, so she just started making them in the basement in the Kahiki. When it was beyond her ability, they contracted out to a local company. When Bill Sapp sold his interest in the restaurant, he didn't keep any of that stuff. There are collectors of tiki ceramics, and all the stuff that's out there, it's all hot.
Elise: It's all stolen. There was no legal sale.
Did you interact at all with Kahiki (frozen) Foods?
David: We had contact with Michael Tsao, the last owner of the restaurant. We were in touch with their sons. They were interested, but then not. Kahiki Foods is owned by a holding company in Pittsburgh. The company decided to make the break.
Elise: There's always resentment for the last owner of something. It's like what we're seeing at Olympic [Swim Club]. The community lashes out because it's historic, even when they can't keep the building afloat. Kahiki was a large building with a lot of maintenance.
David: And most importantly, Kahiki hadn't turned a profit, so they didn't have the money to stay open. As much as he wanted to, there wasn't community support from politicians, and [Tsao] didn't have the money to do it anyway. And then he died. Any hope of reopening died with him.