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The Kahiki and The Columbus Dispatch

I was born in Pittsburgh, the ancestral home for both sides of my family. My dad was a systems analyst for a gas company and he traveled weekly. Columbus was one of his regular stops.

When my dad returned home on Friday nights he'd tell dinner-table stories about his latest trip. Since he ate at restaurants every day while on the road, a lot of his stories revolved around dining. He told us about a Pennsylvania Dutch restaurant near York that served home-style dinners, and an Italian place in Binghamton that had great gnocchi. And then there was the Kahiki in Columbus: the most far-out concept anyone could ever dream up for a restaurant. At least to a 10-year old in 1973.

My dad recounted his visit to the Kahiki to us kids as we circulated a postcard with an exterior photo. The Kahiki looked like a giant South-Pacific longhouse, but there was a lot more to it than that. Easter Island-sized sculptures guarded the entry doors. Indoors, it rained every twenty minutes or so, but guests stayed dry in bamboo huts. There were tropical birds all over the place, and a gong sounded every time someone ordered a particular drink.

Us kids had never been to Disneyland. There was no such thing as a Rainforest Café in 1973. The most exotic place we had ever been was a pizza joint called Bimbo's that had a clown on Saturday nights. The Kahiki may as well have been on Mars. We could not believe what we were hearing.

A few years later my dad was transferred to Columbus full-time. The move was tough on us. We could barely stand the thought of leaving Pittsburgh and our tight-knit, extended family. There were, however, a few bright spots that we looked forward to. In 1975, Columbus was a newer, cleaner and more modern city than Pittsburgh. Columbus had a great metro park system, a kid's science museum called COSI, and the world's largest state fair. Above all else, Columbus had the ethereal Kahiki, and any city that could pull that off just had to be wide open to the most excellent future of everything.

In 1980 my dad fell victim to cancer and our family struggled to keep it together for the next couple of years. But in 1984, on my 21st birthday, my mom offered to take me to the restaurant of my choice. You know where we went. And of course I got an umbrella drink.

In 2010 the Columbus Dispatch posted a call for reader stories about the Kahiki. I submitted one of my memories and reporter Elizabeth Gibson chose to use it. What you've just read is the entire backstory for that little anecdote.

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