Mai-Kai: History and Mystery Book

Mai-Kai: History and Mystery Book

History & Mystery of The Iconic Tiki Restaurant

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Leonce Picot 1932-2018

Leonce Picot 12-17-62 San Francisco Trader Vic’s Stanton Delaplane

Leonce Picot

1932 – 2018

When I began researching the Mai-Kai book in earnest, the first person I tracked down to interview was Leonce Picot. At the time I thought he was the first general manager, but he informed me otherwise. He was an assistant manager from 1957 to 1967. He had been involved with a gym and sold the Thornton brothers memberships. He recalled Jack Thornton’s nickname of “Jockstrap” from the time. He left the Mai-Kai to start his own restaurant the “Down Under” which became a widely renowned and loved place. From there, with partner Al Kocab, he started many fine dining establishments.

Leonce at right, Bob Thornton at left, Kay Picot center.

At the Mai-Kai, he was responsible for many innovations that endure to this day.

He was the editor of the Happy Talk, a semi-regular newsletter sent out to the Mai-Kai snowbirds to help them remember to visit again when they were in south Florida.

With the Mai-Kai’s blessing and investment, he traveled the country visiting other fine dining establishments and put together a series of books on the subject. They were illustrated by AL Kocab and his wife Kay added the prose. They didn’t make much money, but it was really a means of making relationships with the Mai-Kai.

Ad for one of the books in Happy Talk

They are still available via Amazon and other vintage book sellers:


He had a tiny, business card sized version of the drink menu printed and says he didn’t know what he was going to do with it. He and the team came up with the idea of the Okole Maluna Society for those tiny menus and a legend was born.

Another enduring idea he had to keep the far flung fans of the Mai-Kai returning was the calendar. From 1963 to the 80s, a yearly desk calendar featuring the ladies of the Mai-Kai had customers dreaming of their return.

Calendar Mailing Envelope

His most enduring idea at the Mai-Kai was the Mystery Drink. The full details of how he came up with the idea for the drink, why, the reaction as well as the auditions and amazing stories are in the book. You can still get the Mystery Drink at the Mai-Kai, still served in much the same way.

Mystery Girl Lenore – Miss March 1971

Leonce gave me great insight into the Mai-Kai’s history and he gave me Bob Van Dorpe’s phone number and urged me to talk to him, which was life changing.

Thank you Leonce for your great work in this world.

Newspaper article on Leonce.

6 thoughts on “Leonce Picot 1932-2018

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  • Michele Picot

    Leonce was my father and Kay was my mother. Kay is in the photo smiling brightly with Leonce and RT. I spent many a night at Bob Van Dorpe’s House with his daughter Suzanne. Leonce drove Kay to suicide, mostly out of insane jealously. She named the Down Under. Kay Picot wrote ALL the text of the restaurant books and her divorce contract stated he must always give her credit as author. You will see in his obituary Laura says another woman was her mother and that Leonce wrote the books. All the savvy came from Kay- look at her pics.

    Leonce was an unattractive public relations man schooled in the promotion of rum. He was found guilty of extreme cruelty and desertion in the divorce in 1966.

    Helen Van Dorpe, Diane Thornton, Kay Picot, and Ms. Kenny Wagner all divorced the Mai-Kai playboy bunch. They were on the edge of licentiousness at the Mai-Kai, and philanderers off-grounds.

    All we female children of those divorces have suffered our lifetimes for the activities of the Mai-Kai playboys. We were taught heavy booze was cool, show your breasts and shake your booty if you want to impress a man, especially your own father.

    Leonce Picot was the Molokai Liar’s Poker Champion. That is what he chose over a beautiful and brilliant wife and two practically perfect .little girls.

    Alcohol destroys the brain as well as the internal body.

  • Michele Picot

    Charles Zawadski, Mai-Kai artist was my uncle by marriage. He called Leonce a cold fish. It was Uncle Chuck who had the guts to find Kay Picot shot dead in her house.

  • Michele Picot

    I see even you belittle Kay by saying, “His wife added the prose.” She was a nationally recognized food writer! The Prose and the Illustrations were the Books. They are brilliant to read. “Saint” author Leslie Charteris was entranced with Kay and frequently dined with Kay at our house and the Mai-Kai. He encouraged creative detailed documentation of each restaurant- you will see now that the majority of places are no more, especially in New York. This was the importance of the Saint books- Charteris documented streets and buildings all over, for historical preservation. He just wrote us important details of things which have been changed into the Saint mysteries as it was such a useful tool.

    Leonce traveled the country selling ads for the books to Hertz and Don Q. He ate a lot a drank a lot on the trips and broke Kay’s jaw in New York in front of Al Kocab, injury seen the following day by Diane Thornton.

    Thanks for all the great work, Leonce.

  • Michele Picot

    Leonce and Jack Thornton shared a house on the beach off Oakland during their trial separations before divorce. On Daddy day, usually Sunday, Laura Picot, my sister, and I would visit at the beach.

    Burt Sadkin used a particular sofa to pastel sketch nudes. These were stacked against the wall next to a pile of books called “Erotica.”

    I was only 13 or so at the time. I wanted my Daddy to come home. And I cannot tell you how at that age imagining the nudes laying around and being sketched when I wasn’t there, as opposed to the family life I used to have with my father in our cute little home ripped my soul apart.

    Thanks, Leonce. I will carry all your cruel welts and lashings in my heart forever.

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