Six years after Katrina, the Tiki is back in business

GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - Call it another example of post-Katrina recovery. A Gautier icon, the Tiki Restaurant and Lounge is back in operation, six years after Katrina washed away the original restaurant.

The restaurant quietly re-opened without fanfare three weeks ago.  But as word got out, it's not so quiet anymore.  The room is packed with hungry diners, feasting on Tiki favorites they haven't had for six years.

Pauline Wiggins is one of them, here for a bite with friends.

"I'm glad they're back," Wiggins said. "I don't come often because I'm from Lucedale, but whenever I do come down here, I like to come here and eat. It's real good."

The booming business doesn't surprise owner Eddie Thornton.

"During the construction process, we had a lot of road traffic. People coming in, curious to find out what was going on," Thornton said.  "We knew it was going to be like this to start with, so we kind of wanted to ease into it, get all the wrinkles out."

Despite having six years worth of memories washed away by Hurricane Katrina, there is still a lot of history at the Tiki.  Just ask those who eat here.

One of those diners is Jess Brasher, who is handing down a family tradition to the next generation of Tiki fans.

"We've been coming to the Tiki since 1961 and we have loved it ever since. We were worried to see it closed, but we're glad to see it open," Brasher said.  "So this is our first visit since it re-opened, and we're tickled to be here."

Also tickled to be here is Tina Taylor, back at work again. The folks at the Tiki are like extended family.

"It's like being home," Taylor said.  "I've worked off and on for 25 years and the people, the owners, everybody is just friendly and open arms. And it's just like being home."

The rebuilt Tiki is not as large as the previous restaurant. With the downstairs eating area included, the new building has about 3400 square feet of space, compared to the original 12,000 square foot building.

Copyright 2011 WLOX. All rights reserved.