In the late 1950’s, the Stockton branch of Minnie’s was sold to Gong Lee and his wife, Yuen Toy. The restaurant is still there, although now known as “
Gong Lee’s” and no longer provides any trace of the hawaiiana décor.
The next business venture for Hop Louie was of a grandiose scale. He hired architect Warren Wong to design a building to resemble a shipwreck on an island of sand. Builder Tony Meath starting working on the project in March of 1963 The price tag was a huge $70,000 dollars. In May of ’63, AD-Art installed the the tall Islander sign And in June, a mezzanine was constructed to house diners upstairs, overlooking the sunken dining room. Oceanic Arts decorated the interior with thatching, matting, float lamps, tiles, and of course, tikis. The Otagiri Company supplied the tiki mugs and bowls imprinted with the restaurant’s name.
Over the next two years, Hop Louie continued to expand the Islander. By the end of 1965, the Islander was a tiki-mecca measuring 10,000 square-feet. Included within the Islander was a nightclub called Latitude 20. The name “Latitude 20” provides a little foreshadowing into Hop Louie’s future endeavors. The Latitude 20 became the hottest meeting and drinking spot in Stockton. Many musical acts performed at the Islander, which drew people young and old.
In 1966, the Islander was “sold” to Tommy G. Lee. Now, the reason why “sold” has quotations is due to the urban legend that Hop Louie lost the Islander in a crap game. Unfortunately, this rumor cannot be completely confirmed nor denied. One thing that is certain is that Hop Louie regularly gambled with a group of other Chinese immigrants in Stockton. As you may have guessed, some of the players in the group went on to buy Hop Louie’s restaurants. It can be confirmed that Hop Louie lost something BIG through gambling in Stockton. As to if that big loss was the Islander, well I guess it is up to the reader to decide. Tommy Lee's timing was pure luck in owning the Islander.
Tommy Lee’s Islander was a staple of Stockton’s late-night entertainment in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. It was considered Stockton’s version of the Tonga Room in the Fairmont Hotel, or Trader Vic’s in San Francisco. The only day it closed during the year was on Christmas day. Tommy was well-respected in the community due to his gregarious personality, work ethics, and generosity. He often employed many new immigrants and rented an apartment for his employees. Tommy was responsible for really promoting the Islander through advertisements and booking many lounge acts from the Reno/Tahoe circuit.
Some of the more notable acts were the Hawaii ’69 Review, The Back Porch Majority, Randy Sparks, and Frankie Fannelli. When interviewing longtime Stockton residents about the Islander, most only recall that “it was really dark” and the large potent tropical drinks in take-home tiki mugs. Also, the steak and lobster dish appeared to be a crowd favorite. Pictures of the interior have yet to be discovered.
In 1980, Tommy Lee retired and "Sold" (another crap game? )the Islander to restaurateur Dick DeGrande. The name was changed to “DeGrande’s Surf & Turf Islander” and advertised that they featured fresh sea foods, as well as veal, chicken, crepes, and beef. It closed with a big party on New Year’s Eve in 1982.
The building then sat vacant for over three years. Even though the Islander was acknowledged as being near-landmark status, the Lincoln Center South Shopping Complex gave up on finding a suitable tenant for the humongous building.
In 1986, Neil and Tracy Pollard purchased the building to replace their restaurant, the Chicken Kitchen. Two days before Christmas in 1984, the uninsured Chicken Kitchen, located within Pollardville Ghost Town, was destroyed by fire.
However, to make things a little more complicated, the Pollards bought the building to move it to Pollardville, which is approximately 8 miles away. The building was cut into three pieces and hauled to the new site to be put back together.