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Don the Beachcomber brings tiki culture to Huntington Beach

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Delia Snyder holds a picture of herself and her husband, Arthur, who died in November 2012. They opened a Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach in 2009.
(Photo by Ben Brazil )

When Delia Snyder’s husband died five years ago, she was forced to take the reins of a legendary restaurant business in Huntington Beach.

Snyder and her husband, Arthur, had operated Don the Beachcomber since they opened it in 2009 at 16278 Pacific Coast Hwy.

Married 34 years, the couple worked tirelessly to craft the perfect tiki-themed venue. He was the cordial one who could work the room while she was the chemist behind the restaurant’s complex island drinks. Arthur died in his sleep at age 79 on Nov. 7, 2012.

Delia Snyder, 68, of Huntington Beach commemorates her husband every year with meditation and other spiritual practices during the week of the anniversary of his death.

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“I go to church and meditate to find myself peace,” Snyder said. “For a couple of years I couldn’t handle it. But, any difficult thing can be overcome.”

Snyder now solely operates the restaurant, working 16-hour days and overseeing about 40 employees.

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The Tiki Ballroom is a popular space where people pose for photos at Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer )

The 15,000-square-foot restaurant, adorned with tiki-related ornaments, includes the Dagger Bar, various other dining rooms and a music venue capable of seating 300 people.

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Head chef Steven Kwok serves various Cantonese-style and Hawaiian foods like sticky ribs, kalua pork and Spam sushi rolls.

The restaurant’s specialty is the island drinks, which Snyder laboriously designs and crafts. She said some of the syrup used in the secret recipes takes two weeks to prepare.

But food isn’t the only feature at Don the Beachcomber.

Christopher Burkhardt, B&B’s Musical Thrills promoter, organizes various roots music concerts at the venue, which includes rockabilly, folk and swing.

The restaurant has been recognized by the Ameripolitan Music Awards for the quality of music it hosts. The organization seeks to shine a light on musical artists who don’t necessarily fit into specific genres like country.

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Chef Steven Kwok prepares a Spam sushi roll at Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach. He has been the head chef there for six years.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer )

The first Don the Beachcomber was established in Los Angeles in 1937 by Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, who later changed his name to Donn Beach.

Beach was a friend of Snyder’s father and she began working with him in her early 20s while interning with a public relations firm. He became a mentor to Snyder, fueling her eventual move to the restaurant business. Beach died in 1989 at age 81.

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The Snyders’ history in the restaurant game stretches back to the early 1990s when they opened Royal Star in Santa Monica. The Cantonese-style restaurant was well-received in the community and caught the eye of the owner of the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas who proposed opening a location at the hotel, which they obliged. Eventually, they opened Noodle Asia in the hotel.

In 2005, they acquired the rights to Don the Beachcomber on the mainland; a different person holds the rights to the restaurant in Hawaii. The Snyders worked to establish a venue that could pay homage to Beach’s vision while serving the community, a goal that Arthur Snyder held dear.

Reflecting on the early days of the restaurant, Snyder recalled how she and Arthur Snyder seemed to spend every minute together.

“It was a wonderful period,” Snyder said.

While the past few years have been difficult contending with Arthur Snyder’s death, Snyder said she’s “not afraid to be alone” and will keep carrying the tiki torch that Donn Beach originally lit.

Don the Beachcomber is at 16278 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach. For a calendar of musical events at Don the Beachcomber, visit donthebeachcomber.com/calendar.

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A portrait of Donn Beach hangs near the front entrance at Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer )

benjamin.brazil@latimes.com

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Twitter:@benbrazilpilot


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