Gil Gott, executive director of the Dr. Scotty & Hsiu Huang History Center Plant City Photo Archives, Inc. September 2021
Plant City in 2021 is growing fast. A part of that is the noticeable springing up of new watering holes, places to imbibe in a cool glass of frothy craft beer or top shelf wine. New places like Roots, the Tipsy Bookworm, Three Hands Mead Company, and Bruton’s Cigar Shop. It was not always that way. Let’s look back at some of the well-known and not so well-known watering spots in Plant City over the years, with a closer look at one of the most different places in Plant City.
The old well-worn places include these: Although the Roach family had a store, Roach’s Grocery, Freddie Roach had one of the best-known bars in town – Red Fred’s on Haines Street. Everyone knew Red Fred’s. Then there was Tony Mike’s on Reynolds Street. He later moved it to a lot on US92 just east of Maryland Street and named it Tony Mike’s Liquors, Bar and Package. And there was the well-frequented Speak Easy on Laura Street and the Plant Bar on Palmer Street. All very popular places to go. But one that seems to be all but forgotten today is The Menehunes, not exactly a watering hole but a fascinating restaurant and lounge.
In 1973 there was a small gas station at the corner of Sammonds Road and Woodrow Wilson Street. Next to it was Bartlett’s TV and a Baptist Tabernacle. In 1974, at 2301 Sammonds Road, was Victor and Kay Brownie’s take out restaurant in the converted gas station. Victor had lived in Maui, Hawaii, and was fascinated with Polynesian foods and décor. He expanded the little place adding exotic foliage, a lagoon, palm trees and, being an experienced chef, he added Polynesian meals to the menu. Then, he added luaus and Polynesian entertainment – hula dancers, Hawaiian music and an expanded dining area with an outside lighted area near the lagoon.
The Menehunes Restaurant and Tiki Lounge came to be the place to go by late1974. A Tampa Times headline read: “Polynesians hula and palm trees sway in Plant City’s Menehunes Restaurant.” The article begins, “Step into a different world where palm trees sway, love doesn’t die and the sun never quits, where hibiscus flower while smiling tikis look on…. A lagoon circles a stage where Polynesians hula in grass skirts to soft, rhythmic music.” It was a mini-Polynesia.
Here is a delightful write up: “Lunch and Dinner are served in the delightful MENEHUNES RESTAURANT. The name comes from the legend of the Menehunes (three foot tall people of Hawaii) and the story is told on the menu. The legend, along with the outside gardens and lagoon under a thatched roof, set the mood for enchantment as you dine at this charming restaurant. Begin with a PuPu Tray and proceed to the Vic the Trader Sea Island Special, the Luau feast or one of their authentic Polynesian specialties: Beef Steak Mandarin, Cantonese Lobster, Rickshaw Sweet ‘N Sour Shrimp and Yat Ko Chicken among others…. Sip on your favorite rum and fruit libation in the Tiki Lounge.”
Vic and Kay Brownie contracted unique entertainment: Doug and Sundee, direct from Nevada; Joe and Dati Sikahema, Polynesian and American Entertainment; Rhonda Wheeler on the piano; Doug Lyles, the man with the talking guitar; and Dennis Wolf and the Polynesian Night Life Show. Entertainment was nightly Tuesday through Saturday.
Business grew quickly and organizations and clubs patronized Menehunes: The Florida Strawberry Festival and Hillsborough County Fair steering committee met to plan the upcoming 1975 festival; the Optimist Club enjoyed their awards banquet; the 1927 Class of Plant City High School held its 50th year reunion; the Woman’s Club visited for their Fall Banquet; the Kiwanians held their Annual Ladies Night; Al Berry led the East Hillsborough Chamber of Commerce kickoff for its Membership Drive at a rallying luncheon; the Lakeland Social Singles Club feasted at its Annual Luau; and the local chapter of the National Secretaries Association honored its Secretary of the Year at a Menehunes luncheon.
By August 1978 Menehunes began advertising as Menehunes Disco Lounge. At some point business fell off. Menehunes Restaurant and Tiki Lounge closed in late 1978 and was sold in 1979. An era of Polynesian atmosphere disappeared from Plant City.