“Bamboo Ben” Bassham has been involved in creating more than 20 tiki bars from San Francisco to Georgia. After he remade them in his version of Polynesian paradise, the bars and restaurants saw business pick up with new names like Zombie Village, TikiCat, Forbidden Island, and Tiki No.
Bassham is the grandson of Eli Hedly, who was at the center of the post-World War II boom in tiki culture. Hedly’s designs were used on movie sets, Disneyland attractions, and apartment complexes.
If plans are approved, Bassham is about to perform a kitsch transplant on a 20-year-old Oceanside eatery on the pier that every local seems to know about but hasn’t visited in years.
Bassham has been seen at Ruby’s Diner to take measurements to plan for a new tropical lounge interior. He just finished a similar makeover at the Ruby’s Diner in his hometown. The Ruby’s Diner at the end of the Huntington Beach pier is now known as Jan & Dean’s tiki lounge at Ruby’s Diner.
Like the Orange County Ruby’s, the Oceanside Ruby’s would maintain a concept within a concept: the tiki lounge will be housed inside the 50’s style diner which will continue to serve burgers, fries and shakes.
But plans call for a slightly different concept with the Oceanside Ruby's tiki lounge. The Huntington Beach Ruby’s tiki bar design paid homage to its surf city/hot rod history. Insiders say Ruby’s Oceanside tiki bar motif would stick to South Pacific imagery because it is near the Marines at Camp Pendleton.
Ruby’s Oceanside employees say they are aware of upcoming construction plans. But management referred all questions to Newport Beach-based founder Doug Cavanaugh, who launched the Ruby’s diner chain. In September Ruby’s Diner, Inc. which operates 32 diner locations, filed for bankruptcy. Published reports said that Cavanaugh would still be involved with Ruby’s operations. But the company would now be 60 percent owned by Steven Craig of Orange County’s Craig Realty Group who invested $4 million in the chain to keep it going.
Neither Cavanaugh or Craig would comment for this article. Bassham says all official statements would have to come from Cavanaugh.
On a recent Sunday afternoon visit to Ruby’s, a hostess in a Happy Days-era waitress uniform told visitors their wait would have to be at least a half hour but it could be longer. She said even though there were open tables the problem was the kitchen simply couldn’t keep up with the demand.
Ed Gonsalves is the co-owner of the Oceanside Pier Bait Shop located in the middle of the pier. Like Ruby’s, he his wife Pam rent their space from the city of Oceanside which collects rent and a cut of his profits.
Gonsalves is not complaining. He says business has gotten better since they took over the operation 10 years ago. He says his 15-foot by 7-foot shop is open 365 days a year except for this last Christmas when he closed due to rain. “It was the first Christmas we closed in 10 years.”
Tourists and fisherman line up all day at his tiny shop on weekends and holidays. Gonsalves says a fourth of his business is bait, a fourth is snacks and over the years his souvenir business has grown to where his gift shop-type sales total half of his income.
He says he has trained four different pelicans which perch next to his shop throughout the day. “Over the years I've coaxed them to come here,” says Gonsalves who says he used live mackerel to train the big birds to hang out for the tourist photo ops. “I get [the live fish] from the fisherman. It’s how I tax them,” he jokes.
Gonsalves says foot traffic on the pier has not diminished since the city stopped its tram service which used to shuttle people to the end of the pier and back throughout the day.
I asked him if he gets asked by old-timers about when his predecessor tenant Pier Fish Market which sold smoked yellowtail in the 60s and 70s. “All the time,” he smiled. He says the pier does no longer lives up to its old nick-name “Two Sack Pier” when fisherman would regularly haul away two gunny sacks of fish they caught.
He says the city figured out that a proposed 10 pm pier curfew was not worth enforcing and that the pier is now open for traffic 24 hours a day. Prostitution, big in the 70s, is not an issue now. “Our big thing now is homeless,” says Gonsalves; he says people sometimes sleep in the nearby restrooms or behind Ruby’s at the very west end of the pier. “Every morning [policewoman] Shannon drives out and wakes all the kids up and tells ‘em its time to go.”
He says he was not aware of the tiki lounge makeover. “All I heard was they were going away,” says Gonsalves about Ruby’s. He wonders what it might mean if the restaurant due west of his bait shop starts focusing more on serving mai tais, Blue Hawaiians, and Planter’s Punch and less on cheeseburgers.
“We have a lot of jumpers as it is,” says Gonsalves who guesses one brave pier diver takes the plunge each week. “But we had one or two deaths last year….One guy got sucked [by the current] all the way to the harbor.”