Ernest Gnatt was born in Texas, but lived a life of Adventure. He traveled all over the Carribean and South Pacific in the late 1920s, came home to the US and was a bootlegger during Prohibition, finally in 1934, he moved to Hollywood, CA, opened a Tropical Themed Bar and Restaurant called Don the Beachcomber, and changed his name to Donn Beach.
During the late 30′s and into the 40′s, people flocked to Don the Beachcomber’s. The exotic food and cheap rum drinks were a fantastic escape from everyday life. Hollywood celebrities “discovered” the place which brought in even more people.
During WW2, Don Beach was (ironically) stationed in the European theater… but his wife continued the success. When he returned Stateside, his empire had grown to 16 Restaurants. He also opened a Polynesian Village in Encino that drew people wanting to stay in a Tiki Hotel.
Don the Beachcomber is credited with serving the first PuPu Platter (a mixed plate of exotic polynesian appetizers), for mixing the first Zombie Cocktail, and for creating the first Tahitian Rum Punch. He and Victor Bergeron (Trader Vic) were friendly rivals, who both claimed to invent the Mai Tai (I lean toward the Trader Vic story).
At one point there were 19 Don the Beachcomber restaurants across the United States… slowly, as Tiki fell out of favor, many of them closed. As of 2010, there are only 30 left worldwide according to Tiki Central.