When people inquire about the origins of Tiki Terrace, there are a few key points that immediately come to mind. The entire story would take quite some time, but I wanted to write out the version that fits in a nutshell. The big milestones that pop out it my mind are as follows: Juggling > Fire > Samoan Fire Knife > Polynesian Drum and Dance > A Dream > A Reality > A Journey. There it is. In my mind, these things are what molded the "what" and "how" of Tiki Terrace. So I will address each of these points below, no doubt, leaving out a lot and hopefully filling in enough so you can get a broad history of The Tiki Terrace.
If this story were told from either of my brothers, I'm sure these milestones would look very different. It would be fun to hear about the details from their point of view. Nonetheless, here is my account.
I can trace the very beginning of Tiki Terrace back to Y2K in 1999. My brother Scott has always been the originator and source for the beginnings of Tiki Terrace. Although my older brother Jim and I were “all in”, the dream started with my brother Scott and spread quickly among the three of us.
Back in 1999, my brothers and I were very much into juggling. Juggling all sorts of things. I remember attending juggling festivals and meeting other jugglers on oak street beach to hang out, learn and just.... juggle. My brothers and I spent a decent amount of time together juggling and going to various concerts. Also at this time, the three of us together enjoyed, toured and traveled with our favorite band, Phish. For me, when I think of the beginning of Tiki, the very beginning, this is where my mind goes. I’m sure it goes a little further back for Scott and Jim may remember things at a different beginning point, but for me, I see the Everglades. We were traveling to Florida to spend the New Year with Phish.
Eventually, fire was introduced into our juggling. We would even attend the burning man festival (a pretty huge festival in the middle of nowhere) with juggling fire as the culprit. Before heading out to the Phish show in FL (1999), we had constructed a flaming ball of wick on the end of a chain and we would spin two of these around our body in a practiced routine. We practiced and performed this routine to the Red Hot Chili Peppers “Give It Away”. A stage was built in a way that could easily be taken down and packed up in a large cargo van. The backdrop of this portable stage was built and finished upon our arrival in FL. The stage had one purple and one blue painted dragon on the back. It was awesome. We went to FL with about 15 of our friends, the stage, a couple of speakers and camping gear. Every night we would perform our routine and draw large crowds. After the concert, crowds would stay and dance all night at our camp site....hundreds of people. Little did we know, the spinning of the fire around our body was a Polynesian art known as the “poi ball dance”, a dance that was done in ancient and modern New Zealand. This is an important part in the story. The "tie-in" between juggling/fire and the next milestone of Samoan fire knife lies within the following part of this story.
My brothers and I, all three of us, grew up as competitive swimmers. We all swam our entire youth. Around the year 2000, we were attending a retirement party of a former swim coach. This swim coach was retiring and he was moving to Hawaii. While at this party, there were Hawaiian dancers that were hired to perform. During their performance, a couple of girls started spinning the “poi balls” as part of their luau show. These were the things we were lighting on fire at the Y2K Everglades show. As part of their routine they would pull up members out of the audience to try their hand at this ”poi ball dance”. Well, they picked my brother Scott to come up and try the poi balls....and he did quite well. His unorthodox, self-taught style of this ancient practice caught the eye of the performers and the band members who were pretty awe struck at what they saw. From there, my brother was extended an invitation to come join the group for a practice session and see what this Hawaiian dance group was all about. There were many weeks, perhaps even months, that went by with Scott attending these classes before he invited me, and eventually Jim, along into this new world and new culture.
SAMOAN FIRE KNIFE (SIVA AFI).
The exciting bait that drew myself, my brother Jim (and I’m sure Scott) into this Polynesian world, was the new and exciting venture of “Samoan Fire Knife Dancing” (or Siva Nifo Oti Afi). This was a new skill and new passion that led the way into experiencing Hawaii in many, many ways. If you’re unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, I can briefly describe what this is. Every tourist that attends a luau in Hawaii will witness the Polynesian art of drum and dance from the various Polynesian Islands. At the very end of the Luau, traditionally, a guy will come out and perform the "Siva Afi", or Fire Knife Dance. I won't nerd out on you and get into the Samoan culture and history of this dance (this is the nutshell story, remember?) but I will tell you this. It became our passion. Don't get me wrong, we were all good, (competing in competitions in California and Hawaii's annual "World Fire Knife Competition" at the Polynesian Cultural Center, Laie, Hawaii), but Scott would shine, no pun intended. He would go on to forever revolutionize the way this ancient art is performed. The uniqueness of guys coming from "cold country" (Chicago) and not only compete in Hawaii, but do beyond well, was a remarkable and very special time, for both Hawaii and our family.
POLYNESIAN DRUM AND DANCE.
Hawaiian culture was now permeated in our lives. We would go on and spend several years performing the various dances and siva afi for many crowds, large and small. Summer time was a "busy season" where entertaining in Luaus throughout Chicagoland was both busy and fun. This is a time of the milestone progression that lasted years and I don't recollect anything else to really say. We performed a lot. We practiced a lot. We drove (and I still do) out to Des Plaines a lot. It was fun, and no doubt shaped our lives. It is completely noteworthy when telling you the story of Tiki Terrace, to mention this time. This was also the time when the dream of Tiki Terrace was introduced to me.
Remember, at the beginning of this story I told you it was my brother that was the originator and dreamer who gave life to the concept of Tiki Terrace. I can slightly remember him sharing the concept with me, but do not remember any details. I just remember him telling me the vision and me being all in. The strategy was to build a mobile luau show with props, lighting, a stage, a band, decor, and of course, performers. This mobile show would go on to and acquire the name "Fires of Polynesia". I remember the practice involved, the building, the time that was put in to this vision. I remember Fires of Polynesia strategically being the first step before hunting for a permanent "home" for this production.
In October of 2005, The Tiki Terrace opened its doors in Prospect Heights, IL. The little 50 seat restaurant/tiki bar was as unique then, as it is now. We spent three years at that little place and of all three years, the memories that first stick out in my mind is the build out with my brothers and my Dad. The building was old. Very old. The unit in this strip mall was small. Very old. Very run down. Very old. I remember we had a north shore car club come out for an event at Tiki Terrace and most of the guys would constantly leave the building to check on their cars. That's what type of strip mall we were in. There was a sandwich place a few units down, a pizza place next door, a European place (which I'm still not sure what the business name was or what they did to make money) and a liquor store that I remember. This mall, run down and beat up, was our humble beginning...a true diamond in the rough. We would have a luau show every Saturday night. We would work every night and look forward to the weekends when the hired staff would show up and there would be excitement. This is the point in my recollections where I'm flooded with memories. I look at Tiki now and can see the growth from our very first table and the very first plate of food we sent out. I find myself laughing at the things we did and how much we have grown, but we didn't know any better- we had never been in the restaurant business before and were giving it our all. I remember the source of pride I had in the amount of hours I would work. I would laugh at the 60 hour work week and would easily blow way past this, working an insane amount of hours. The building years of Tiki were without a doubt, just that. All work, no play. Work was play and work was life. That I remember.
We quickly found out that we had to grow and we did. Three years later, we moved into our current location of 1591 Lee street, in Des Plaines. We have been on a journey and things now, are not as they were before. And things in the future, will no doubt be very different then they are now. Now, my wife an I run Tiki Terrace, and we are giving it our best. I look back at the beginning and feel blessed because here we are, continuing to bring Hawaii to the mainland and none of The Tiki Terrace would be here, had it not been for God's grace and love expressed through my family. We love Hawaii. I mean it, we truly love Hawaii. But we love providing guest with a unique and affordable vacation style dinner and show experience. We love the Tiki Terrace staff and feel honored and humbled that some of their income stems from a piece of our life (that goes way back to juggling). We are excited to see what Tiki Terrace will become and watch more and more people experience something special and unique. The story and past of Tiki have all been incredible learning experiences and memories that I hold very near.
Our direction now is to build and increase the luau dinner and show experience. We are implementing more technology in the way we work. We are constantly trying to improve our systems in the kitchen. We are trying to be more and more creative within local style Hawaiian foods like "build your own poke bowls", "spam musubi", "ramen noodle bowls", "mahi mahi" "Hawaiian beef teriyaki" and a lot more! More frequent menu changes take place now a days. We specialize in Luau catering now and have a really busy catering season! We focus banquet rentals, especially toward the end of the year as this is the season for holiday Christmas parties! We also focus more and more on advertising then we ever have. Angie and I love what we do and are excited to provide a environment that duplicates Hawaii and provides authentic food and Hawaiian music-
So there it is, thanks for reading. I wish I could include pictures of all the above content. Maybe one day~