Travel briefs

Last seating: Trader Vic’s

maitre d’ retires after 57 years

EMERYVILLE, Calif. (AP) — She’s worn a gardenia in her hair every day since she started working in 1960 at Trader Vic’s, the legendary home of mai tai cocktails.

But now Claudette Lum is about to preside over her final seating as a maitre d’ at the tiki-themed restaurant. She’s retiring at the end of this year at age 80.

She never imagined she’d stay this long when she was hired 57 years ago by Trader Vic’s founder, the late Victor Bergeron.

“I just kept going,” Lum said. “Making people happy means so much to me, and I’ve known five generations of families. I feel like all the customers are like my family.”

Trader Vic’s has grown from a bar in Oakland in the 1930s to a 21st century chain with nearly two dozen outposts in London, Tokyo, Munich, Bangkok, the Middle East and elsewhere. Lum worked at the restaurant’s San Francisco location at Cosmo Place, which was its flagship for decades, before moving to its Emeryville restaurant 10 miles away, now its main U.S. location.

A 5-foot-2-inch powerhouse who always sports that trademark gardenia in her hair, Lum was instrumental in defining the Polynesian hospitality for which Trader Vic’s became known.

“Claudette is Trader Vic’s. She really embodies the true aloha hospitality,” said Cathy Bayer, a customer who’s known Lum since 1972. Lum personally welcomes “every single person, whether you are a queen or a Jane Doe.”

In fact, welcoming a queen is one of Lum’s most memorable moments. In 1983, she was summoned to work on her day off when Queen Elizabeth II and Nancy Reagan came in on short notice for dinner in the Lord Trafalgar Room. Other celebrities welcomed by Lum included Debbie Reynolds, Michael Douglas, Richard Burton and Marlon Brando. She recalled that tennis great John McEnroe and baseball legend Pete Rose refused to wear ties in the days when the restaurant required it.