Save Don the Beachcomber (Sam's Seafood)

High-rise apartments are threatening the future of our beloved Don the Beachcomber. City Council will be reviewing and voting on proposals to pursue studies to change the zoning at Don the Beachcomber to HIGH-DENSITY!

The land owners want to LEVEL Dons and sell the land to developers. Let them know that you want to retrain the current low-density zoning. Attend the city council study session meeting on Monday, July 6 at 6:00pm, city hall 2000 Main Street, HB.

WHAT CAN YOU DO RIGHT NOW? You can email ALL city council members at Tell them that you want to retain low density zoning at Don the Beachcomber.

Sorry for the spam, but this is very important to the tiki community and to lovers of all things midcentury.
PLEASE SHARE and REPOST this. There is power in numbers!

Don the Beachcomber's official statement was posted on Facebook 

First and foremost we want to thank all of you who have voiced their continued support for Don the Beachcomber as well as the Sunset Beach community.
During our tenancy at this historic venue we knew that there would be some hurdles and obstacles to overcome and that the fate of the property would ultimately rely on our ability to succeed so that we may at some point down the road be able to call upon those that have enjoyed this Tiki Palace over its many years of its existence. In 2009 when Art and Delia Snyder acquired the property it was their sole intention to preserve the historic significance of the building as well as to renew its prominence in the Southern California region and to be able to continue the legacy of not only Don the Beachcomber but also of what used to be Sam’s Seafood.
There have been many times during our tenancy that the land was in escrow and out of escrow; to the point that we wouldn’t even pay attention and we would simply continue business as usual and here we are 7 years later. Most recently the land did sell to a new entity and we have been in constant communication with the new landlord as to what his intentions are with the land and whilst he does have plans to redevelopment in the distant future, he currently does not plan to redevelop the land any time soon. The landlord of Peter’s Landing have been pushing the rezoning for some time now for their property but our landlord informed us today that he will not participate with any rezoning project and is still interested in keeping us as a tenant.
You can email ALL city council members at and be sure to copy and tell them that you want to retain low density zoning at Don the Beachcomber and Peter’s Landing or You can attend the city council meeting Monday July 6th 2015 4pm/6pm @ Huntington Beach City Hall 2000 Main Street
Cheers! To Staying for another 100 years! ‪#‎SaveDontheBeachcomber‬

While we are on the topic of Don the Beachcomber, I thought it would be cool to take a look into it's previous life, as Sam's Seafood! 

place is WORTH saving.


Before Sam's Seafood went tiki in 1960, it was built in the 1923 as a bait shop on the side of an empty Pacific Coast Highway. 

The 1920s also saw prohibition. In the first Sam's building, which was located up towards the bridge going in to Seal Beach, they used to run booze out of a tunnel and down to the beach.

From "Seal Beach: A Brief History" by Larry Strawther: "In 1937, brothers Sam and George Arvanitis, who owned a bait shop near Surfside, opened Sam's Seafood Grotto and let patrons pick their fish out of the pool of water next to the cafe. It drew enough crowds that in late 1941, Sam's opened its four-hundred-seat Neptune Room with the music of Arthur Gibson and his Orchestra."

Eventually though, prohibition ended and it was cocktail time.... I found this original menu at an estate sale. I wish it was a menu from Sam's tiki days, but this still tells the story of Sam's Seafood. This was before rum was associated with tropical cocktails or seafood dining. So instead, you find the typical gin and whiskey drinks of the day. Howsabout a Gin Fizz for a quarter?? Hell, why don't you just give me a whole dollar's worth!

Man... to travel in time... I will take the Guaymas Turtle Steak Dinner for $1.50, please! 
uh.... Turtle Steak???

This is some camera-ready art for an ad or business card or something. I came across this at an antique mall in Long Beach. If it swims we have it? Yeah? You serve dolphin or seal??

Original cocktail napkins and stationary. Even back then, they had the swordfish on top of the roof!  

Sam's Seafood moved down the street to a new location in 1947. 

This next image looks like a transition into the 1950's! Still pre-tiki, but dig that atomic sign!! It's a shame that that was ever removed. If you look closely at the building, you can see today's Don the Beachcomber 'in it.' The criss cross lattice as you walk from the parking area to the bar... the 'V' supports that hold up the lattice... The swordfish is up on top of the restaurant... though it doesn't look like the one that we all know now. Those palm trees have all grown gigantic now too!.

That building burned down at 3am - Feb 17, 1959. When they rebuilt it, many of those architectural things mentioned above, came back. The article below says some really interesting stuff:

"Without the fortitude and courage of the Katsaris family, Sam's Seafood Restaurant would have faded into pleasant memories."

"Instead, Nick, Ruth, and Dick Katsaris fought back. Investing over $1 million, they rebuilt Sam's Seafood into an exotic tropical paradise.
Today, Sam's serves over 45,000 (!) customers each month, 600 people can be seated at one time. Open 18 hours a day, seven days a week, Sam's operates its own private fishing fleet and is known as a dramatic dining show place."


 in 1960, Sam's Seafood jumped into the tiki craze! Two large waterfalls, six different rooms, a tropical gift shop, a Hidden Village, more bamboo, pufferfish lamps, decor, and Milan Guanko carved tikis than you can even believe!  

The only other tiki palace of this size is the Mai Kai in Ft Lauderdale, FL. 

Sam's/ Don's is truly impressive.

Famous visitors such as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Duke Kahanamoku, and John Wayne frequented the new tiki palace!

1950's matchbook and 1960s Sam's Seafood menu. The matchbook is interesting if you look at the bottom half of it. Sea Burgers?? Franchises Available? Was that ever a thing? There isn't much out there about a Sam's Seafood burger joint.

A tiki with nails for the teeth?? This really cool ad is from my buddy, 
Sabu the Coconut Boy's archives.

The entryway in the late 1990s was really pretty bland. In the past decade, Bamboo Ben (Huntington Beach native and deep tiki legacy. See the Aku Aku blog post for more from his family) did an amazing job in recreating the entryway to the original 1940' Beverly Hills Don the Beachcomber to spruce it up. 

After Bamboo Ben's remodel

I DO miss seeing the SAM'S letters on the swordfish... But if we can keep the sign up there with DON'S on it, I'll be just as happy!

This is the giant Milan Guanko tiki that watches over the dining room. When it was Sam's, there was a mural behind him. I'm guessing that it was probably painted in the 1970s or '80s...

Here's how that same wall looked in the 1950s. These are the original owners, 
Nick and Ruth Katsaris.

Photo: Sharyon Katsaris

One of the most interesting things about Sam's was the use of 'square bamboo' all over the restaurant. You can see it used as the railing in front of the fountain in the photo above. It must have been readily available in the '60s because you see it at the 1961-built Tiki Ti as well... It's pretty hard to come by now days...                                                                                                                             You could also see the square bamboo in the Dagger Bar. Sometime in the early 2000s, that bamboo fencing was taken down to open up the floor of the bar. I liked the little 'secluded' corral in the middle of the bar, but it just didn't make much practical sense for people moving around the room. I think most of that square bamboo ended up at the Tonga Hut, Palm Springs, via construction by Danny Gallardo. 
Something else that has since gone away is the gift shop... Look at ALL of the amazing stuff in there! Fish floats, ships wheels, bongos, mugs and volcano bowls!

And by the way, where the HELL did all of those Sam's Seafood mugs and volcano bowls go?? it looks like there were three different types of mugs available at this time. You NEVER see those around. Not on eBay, not in private collections... nowhere. It looks like the volcano bowl had two or three of the Sam's mugs built into them! Cool stuff...

Illustrations of the tiki mug and volcano bowl. 

Another look at the gift shop. It was located in what is now the Longboard Room. It's to the right of the dining room, as you enter the restaurant.

Judging by the prices and the inclusion of tikis, this menu was from the early 1960s

Here's the 'new' signage and front to Sams Seafood. This sign looks like it was created in the 1970s to me. Quite a departure from the amazing atomic sign of the 1950s! You can see the fifties version on the matchbook on the right. 

These photos were shot in the early 2000's. Not the best era for Sam's. A reputation for mediocre food, drinks and service had plagued the restaurant. The weekly Polynesian Review still did well though!

This guy has been missing for some time now. He used to sit right outside of the Dagger Bar entrance. Probably in someone's back yard now though... When Sam's closed in 2006 for about a year or so, a few in the tiki world thought that everything was fair game. Some morally deficient vandals took stuff that didn't belong to them. 

This guy is still there, but rotting beyond repair, unfortunately. 

This was the Dagger Bar while it was still Sams. That outrigger in the ceiling is out in the dining room now. 
Neon doesn't belong in a tiki bar... But as long as it's themed, I guess it's okay.

Those chairs ended up at Tiki Iniki in Kauai. I wish they woulda kept them at Dons. They're really cool chairs. At least they went to another amazing bar!

 I loved the uphostery on the old booths too. Real vintage vibe to them! Diner meets tiki...

Then there was this period of Sam's... When it reopened in 2007 with a new sign... I think that shortly thereafter, it was renamed Kona. 

The owners didn't know what they wanted the place to be; a club, upscale dining... Why would you fight a theme that was already designed amazingly for you? You have a midcentury tiki restaurant? Do tiki!

Photos by Ojaitimo 

In order to 'fancy the place up' they draped these ridiculous curtain things all over the place. The vibe was, 'You have a Hawaiian shirt on in here? You aren't cool enough to be in here...'  Plus the drinks sucked. I didn't spend more than one or two nights here during this period. It was a bummer.

They also covered up some really cool stuff in the bar. 
Here's The Hula Girls, playing in the Dagger Bar... 

And that same wall, pre-Kona! 

Taboo Cove moai

Eventually, in 2009, Art Snyder bought the place, obtained the rights to the Don the Beachcomber name, and recipes and rebranded Sam's. He added SO much to what we all knew as Sams...In a really good way.

He hired Bamboo Ben to add more bamboo and hanging lamps all over the restaurant. He got Danny Gallardo to make signs and add decor. Art brought all of the stuff that he collected from Bosko's ill-fated Taboo Cove in Las Vegas and added it to the collection.... A ton of puffer fish lamps from the quickly defunc 'Luau' reboot in Los Angeles.

Art came at this from the correct direction. There were a lot of years where the place was just eating up his money... But though Art has passed on, the restaurant is financially successful now! The only thing in the way are the people who bought the Don the Beachcomber land and who keep trying to destroy all of this history.

The developers want to turn Sunset Beach into a congested stucco beach town, by building several high-rise apartment complexes all over Sunset Beach. They want to do this on the Sam's Seafood/ Don the Beachcomber lot as well. 

There is a lot more decor and tikis that I have pictures of but didn't include in this article. Go to Don's and experience this amazing place for yourself. Spread the word.

This place is worth saving. 

Help us to keep it around by writing ALL of the city council members at or even better, attend the city council study session meeting on Monday, July 6 at 4:00 or 6:00pm, city hall 2000 Main Street, HB.