Victor Bergeron was a friend since his modest bar called Hinky Dink's in Oakland at 65th and San Pablo Avenues became Trader Vic's. From that time on, his success and fame skyrocketed as he expanded to major cities in the United States and abroad to London and Munich.
Although minuscule in comparison, I'd had success in
For over two years, I needled him on the subject. Finally, he said, "Okay. Okay. See what you can do, but I'm not promising to go to that goddamned country."
I hadn't realized this was going to be my responsibility, but I knew I'd enjoy trying. From the pattern of his expansion, I'd have to find a location in a hotel.
I met with Iwajiro, Noda. Following tradition, we spent some time
discussing the weather, cherry blossoms and
I said, "I have a friend in
He smiled in recognition of this compliment, then asked, "What is the name of your friend?"
"Victor Bergeron," I said, "professionally known as Trader Vic."
Noda-san said, "I know those restaurants very well. They're the ones in the railroad stations."
Realizing this conversation was not going anywhere, I formally
excused myself. When I returned to
Because Vic was in no hurry, and I traveled to Japan every two or three months, negotiations were spread over an extended length of time.
My next appointment was with the Imperial Hotel where the
conversation with Ichiro Inumaru was much more satisfactory than my Okura
experience. Inumaru-san had spent some time in
He explained, although they'd recently completed a major addition, all suitable restaurant space had been committed. He was truly sorry to miss out on the opportunity to have Trader Vic's at the Imperial.
As I got up to leave, he asked if I could stay on a bit. He made
a telephone call, and shortly an assistant delivered a large book containing
detailed information on all major
Inumaru-san leafed through the report, occasionally stopping to spend a moment scanning a page. Then he studied a report for almost five minutes. He said, "I think I've got the hotel for you. It's the New Otani. I certainly wish it could have been us."
The New Otani had a thousand-room wing nearing completion; and,
as far as he knew, suitable space was still available. It would now be the
largest hotel in
Profusely thanking him for the help he'd been, I started to leave
and once again he delayed me. "I've a suggestion," he said. "Go
see Noda-san at the Okura once more. I'm sure by now he's got this railroad
station bit straightened out, and the Okura is the best hotel in
This was a surprising statement by an executive of a hotel considered by many as one of the best in the world. The original building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the survivor of the devastating 1923 earthquake and the fire-bombings of World War II. I'd find many who would disagree with him and consider the Imperial the best.
However, I followed his suggestion and asked Kyozo Yuasa to
arrange an appointment. It turned out to be another frustrating experience. As
Inumaru-san had thought, Noda-san had revised his railroad station story. Now
he remembered Trader Vic had restaurants at the airports in the
Kyozo Yuasa then made an appointment for me with Suemitsu
Kadowaki, CEO of the New Otani. All went well, and Trader Vic's opened at the
New Otani in September of 1974. Lulu and I joined Vic and Helen Bergeron for
the occasion. This has proven to be one of his most profitable operations. As
the New Otani entered new markets, Trader Vic's was included. They now have
As an interesting sidelight, Kadowaki-san and a group of his
executives came to
The Japanese then stood abruptly, clapped their hands, and shouted loudly in unison "HO." There was complete silence from the other diners in the room except for the clatter of dropped silverware. Vic's regulars had gone through a startling Japanese experience.
Lulu and I had flown with Vic and Helen in his plane down to
A group of us were having pre-dinner cocktails, and Vic was engaged in a serious conversation with a younger man. He was explaining how to catch marlin and Helen was lightly tugging at his sleeve trying to get him to stop. It turned out Vic, who'd had never fished for marlin, was explaining the intricacies of this specialty to the man who had written the definitive book on the subject.
Vic Bergeron was a kind and sensitive man. On that trip to
She, of course, was frightened; and Vic was concerned the local hospital might not do a proper job. He had his pilot fly the girl to the San Francisco Bay Area where the amputation was performed. He also invited the girl's best friend to make the trip with her so she'd have someone close nearby who also spoke Spanish. He paid all expenses and absolutely refused any publicity for what he'd done.
During World War II, Monday was servicemen night at Trader Vic's. One of the rooms was filled with ambulatory patients from nearby military hospitals. They were his guests and again, he refused any publicity.