For most Atlanta homeowners, bamboo is an invasive nuisance about as welcome as kudzu. But not for Frank Simotics, aka the Tiki Rancher, who posts continual Craigslist ads offering to haul it away from local yards. The Roswell resident uses the sustainable plant to build cheeky outdoor structures that look right out of an Elvis-in-Hawaii movie, and he’s counting on their retro charm to turn his hobby into a full-time business. “People can’t believe they’re in Georgia when they’re in my backyard,” says Simotics. “The hut transports them to somewhere exotic.”
His own sixteen-by-sixteen-foot two-story tiki hut started as a playhouse for his son Austin in 2010. The more research he did, the more Simotics realized such structures could be a backyard destination for people of all ages—especially Southerners, who spend so much time outdoors. “A tiki hut is the perfect addition if you have a pool or a garden in Atlanta,” he says. “And with all the Parrotheads in town, what a natural fit.”
Simotics follows traditional construction methods, using materials like oak dowels, thatch, and rope lashing—some sourced locally and others from Asia and South America. He says the structures are more organic than conventional outbuildings because the materials are untreated and unpainted (though the bamboo is soaked with borax to repel bugs). Costs range from $2,500 for a doghouse to $15,000 and up for larger structures. Custom designs can incorporate electricity, plumbing, and other creature comforts. He’s also offering DIY kits (from $150). Life expectancy of a tiki hut, however, can be as little as seven years.
A stint in Laguna Beach fueled Simotics’s passion for tiki culture, which originated in the mainland’s fascination with Hawaii after World War II and led to restaurant chains such as Trader Vic’s. A honeymoon in Tahiti with his wife, Jennifer, confirmed Simotics’s love of primitive structures.
“I’ve always been one to take a hobby to the nth degree,” says the entrepreneur, who is currently restoring a 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville and has had careers from general contracting in the military to the interior design of Liberace’s mansion. “I’m a purist about things, and when I get into something I go all out.” tikirancher.com, tikirancher.blogspot.com
This article originally appeared in our September 2013 issue.