Stowaway: Tustin Union Market’s Full Tiki Conversion

Musubi love. Anne Marie Panoringan

 

Tustin Union Market’s tucked away Hatch was always more tiki-lite than tiki bar; but that never stopped us from making it our neighborhood watering hole. In recent months, Leonard Chan’s involvement has upped the ante, striving to fulfill his island-loving, pirate-talking, tiki-embracing soul. Their version of Hatch 2.0, now changing to Stowaway, is ready to set sail this week. We sat down over a bowl of loco moco (There may have been shots of Fernet.) to get all the details.

 

Why go full Tiki? And what is your definition of Tiki?

When we first opened, I didn’t think Orange County was ready for an opening of an old-school style Tiki bar. There still seemed a faint, bad taste in cocktail lovers’ mouths everywhere from the Tiki fallout that slowly began in the late 70s. We wanted to show that Tiki was very fun if done right. And, being a Mid-Century lover, we opened our doors with that design theme in mind, hoping for an approachable Tiki experience.

For a few years now, my good friend and partner at Stowaway, Dominic Iapello, and I had been flirting with opening a Tiki bar in Long Beach. We had looked around and never fell in love with a location. I don’t know why we didn’t think of it earlier, but around six months ago, a light bulb lit up and we thought to ourselves that Hatch could prove to be a great launching pad with the footprint already in place at a working location. There is no doubt the many times (and drinks) spent at The Reef and Bootlegger in Palm Springs; Golden Tiki and Frankie’s in Las Vegas; the legendary Tiki Ti; and, of course Trader Sam’s here in our backyard. Watching the seats start to fill up more and more gave us the nudge we needed to kick start our love of Tiki and embrace it.

Tiki, for us, is a blend of so many things. It’s a way of life; a sense of adventure and escapism. A culture, an attitude and a community. Those and the love of rum and booze in general, music and kitschy decor, of course (laughs). Really though, all these things added up reflect how Tiki is, how it has survived, and is now beginning to flourish again.

 

How has the food menu changed? Can the kitchen accommodate certain dietary restrictions?

We definitely tried our best not to tick off too many people and completely wipe the menu clean. So we have kept a bunch of our favorites [Editor’s Note: The Loco Moco remains!], while adding some more Tiki culture-inspired dishes. Think grilled pineapple teriyaki or North Shore-style garlic shrimp sliders. We are expanding from just the Loco Moco to Curry Tonkatsu and Pan Pacific-forward seafood plates. We are having a lot more fun, thanks to Chef Jonel Ungos, adding items like a Spam Musubi that’s lightly battered in tempura, flash fried and topped with drizzled teriyaki and togarashi. Chinese five spice chicken wings, and battered and fried green beans along with some other shareables will keep your fingers busy.

The kitchen can definitely accommodate gluten-free and vegan diets. We have added the Impossible Burger onto the menu. along with an old favorite with the Portobello Mushroom Slider. The shrimp and Ono plates will also allow gluten-free guests to stuff their faces. Our salad game now includes a Grilled Caesar, Classic Wedge, and Macaroni Salad. We are working on upping our offerings, but we want to focus on the roll-out first. So keep an eye out for menu changes in the near future!

 

Let’s discuss the bar program. Is there still beer? Is there more rum? What are your straws made of?

Heck no, that does not mean no more beer! There is no way our love of craft beer will not proudly be on display (We still will have 17 beers on rotation and cans), but we really want the Tiki Cocktail program to shine here. We have always had solid cocktails, but with Dom coming on board and all of the staff pitching in with ideas, we really have elevated our Tiki game. Dom has so many ideas swirling around his noggin, it’s freaking fantastic. I keep printing out new menus, just to have to print them again the next day when we decided to add another cocktail or three (laughs). We now have a staggering 27 cocktails on the list, with a few more in the wings as our bar program expands. We encourage all of our mixologists to come up with new libations, so the menu should always be evolving.

Rum has always been a cornerstone for Tiki drinks, and we always had a good selection of it. But we have quadrupled our rum selection to the tune of nearly 50 bottles and counting. We are planning on implementing a rum passport into place, with those brave enough to knock out all the rum in there getting a surprise gift from us. Rum has had a bad rap since, well, since I can ever remember. We are hoping we can help teach taste buds everywhere that rum can be just as complex and delicious, if not more to some, than whiskey.

Straws! We are going through the last of our plastic straws; we have quite a bit in stock, to be honest. Once that is out, we are moving to hay straws for the most part. This solves most of our straw options, but we are still trying to figure out the straw situation for our taller Tiki mugs. We’ve tried stainless steel straws already at The Packing House, and within a few weeks, they were all gone. Whether it be by would-be souvenir lovers or just being lost in translation, they did not last very long at all. We’ll figure it out soon, I’m sure! Otherwise, it’s back to stainless steel just for those offerings.

 

Is there inspiration behind your name choice? Should we look out for certain details (For instance, “Wilson”)?

(Laughs) So we kicked and bounced around so many times. I am always tortured for finding the right name for anything we create, to the point where my feet and hands are sweating just thinking about it right now. When it came down to it, Dom and I really liked both Dom Tiki and Stowaway, but felt like Stowaway fit more and defined who we are. We are a little mischievous, super curious, and down for an exciting journey– not knowing where we will end up, but enjoying the ride. Dom Tiki will live on, though. Every Tuesday night, Dom and I are there slinging delicious drinks, tasty grub, and really terrible jokes.

Willlllsoooonnnnnnnnn! Dominic thought it would be funny to hide baby in the corner. So now sits Wilson, who has become kind of like our protector, watching over the bar from the corner. Keep track of him throughout the year (winks and nudges). The decor will also be a never-ending project. There are artifacts from our travels to Mexico, the Philippines and Hawaii already, along with some fun stuff donated to us from friends. As we bounce around the world, the walls and ceiling will become more and more eclectic and adorned.

 

Totally unrelated, but what’s your favorite condiment?

Yarrrrrrrr, matey. WALK THE PLANK!!! Feed me ketchup, and watch me blowwwww! Gert your mind out of the gutter.

 

Shout outs?

So many people. I feel so fortunate that Dom has joined the team, sees our vision, and wants to really engulf our customers with an amazing experience. We put our team and partners through a good deal of grief in the process, but having them all support us means the world. Jonel, for really pulling the kitchen together and coming up with a yummy, new and inspired menu. Bamboo Ben for helping us with some great finishing touches that only he could provide. Josh Agle (Shag) for always encouraging and believing that we wouldn’t screw it up. Oh, and some of the raddest stuff that could go on walls anywhere Tiki-inspired. Last, but not least, the Tiki community that has helped with the rebirth of Tiki and allowed us to dive in knowing that fun lies ahead.

 

Okay, Leonard. How should we end this interview?

I will leave you with a great example of the truly horrible jokes that spew out at times; though this one is quite fitting at the moment.

Q: What’s the difference between a hungry pirate and a drunken pirate?

A: One has a rumbling tummy, and the other’s a tumbling rummy. YARRRRRR!

 

Stowaway is located at 2493 Park Ave., Tustin, (657) 208-2088.

A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.

One Reply to “Stowaway: Tustin Union Market’s Full Tiki Conversion”

  1. Been too the Hatch many times and loved it!! Can’t wait too check out the full Tiki affect and what you’ve done with the place🤙🏝🗿

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