When it comes to tiki, plenty of people dabble. Maybe you’ve been known to whip up a tasty, homemade Mai Tai on occasion. Perhaps you’re one of the lucky folks who lives in one of the 17 remaining cities with its very own Trader Vic’s. Or, who knows, it’s possible even that you recently ordered some Jungle Birds. There are no wrong answers here.
Very few live tiki, however. And perhaps no one lives it quite like Jonathan & Allison.
As a child, Jonathan's mom worked at a travel agency that booked Caribbean cruises on the regular. His interest in all things tiki took root there. “I have always loved blue waters, white-sand beaches, and ocean breezes—along with all of their trappings,” Chaffin says. “I fell in love with souvenirs and branding, and that led me to art school.”
While pursuing a graphic design BFA at Georgia State University, he started down the path of exploration: colorful mid-century and pop art, surrealism, commercial arts, and an artist called SHAG, who participated in the 1990s tiki revival. One thing led to another and he and his girlfriend Allison found themselves at the Trader Vic’s in downtown Atlanta.
That magical evening—the first of many—was a predecessor to their tiki-themed wedding in 2007. From there, the tiki-fication continued to escalate. Jonathan started designing mugs, coasters, matchbooks, and other branded items for their home bar. While researching mug production costs, he realized it was more cost effective to do a bunch of them, so he launched a Kickstarter called Horror in Clay that ended up raising around $80,000 across nearly 2,000 orders. (It still operates as a shop to this day, too.)
Fast forward a few more years and Allison launched a successful quarterly subscription box for “lovers of all things Polynesian-pop” called MugCrate. While that project eventually fell by the wayside, the learnings and passion they derived from it didn’t. The latest creation from this tikified duo is called "Inuhele: Atlanta's Tiki Weekend". It started as a tour of home bars around Atlanta but has expanded to include a full Tiki Weekend of activities at downtown Atlanta’s Sheraton hotel.
For Jonathan, tiki culture always comes back to the humans making it. “I love hospitality and people and art,” he says. “I think the throughline between the concept of a bar, the drinks, the branding, the mugs, the marketing, the environment, and the personalities are what make tiki culture special.”
As he fantasizes about what’s next, including the possibility of a venue of some kind where he could store tiki collections but also perhaps serve the public in some way, he says he hopes to “never stop being a creator, a good host, and a person who grabs friends to make some fun things happen.”
Cheers to that.