THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES ARE A SAMPLE OF SOME OF THE COVERAGE THE LEI MAN HAS RECEIVED. PROFILES OF THE LEI MAN HAVE ALSO BEEN BROADCAST ON THE DISCOVERY CHANNEL AND REGIONAL TELEVISION AND RADIO STATIONS.
Business & Real Estate Delaware Coast Press
Lei Man brings Hawaiian tradition to the mainland
REHOBOTH BEACH - Under his trademarked alias "The Lei Man",
entrepreneur Steve Latour is used to hearing the snickers, the double
entendres and the bad puns involved with his business.
Latour has taken the gift of giving flowers and seasoned it with a little
island tradition, sending leis for all occasions to anywhere in the
continental U.S. (and even parts of Canada) overnight.
"I just resist making the jokes and let everyone else come up with the
creative ways of using the name," Latour said.
All kidding aside, Latour has found a serious business opportunity with
his suggestively named title.
Working out of his home in Washington, D.C., Latour sews orchids,
carnations, plumeria and other types of flowers together in a necklace-like
fashion. He then sends the leis, via Federal Express, across the states to be
worn around the necks of their recipients.
Latour realized the attraction of leis during his winters spent in Hawaii.
Working as a bartender at the Black Orchid, a bar owned by actor Tom
Selleck, Latour saw the role the lei played in the lives of those in the
Hawaiian culture. "When they placed (a lei) around someone's neck, it
would really make them feel important, make them feel special," said Latour.
The lei's Polynesian roots had the flowered objects used for god and
goddess worship, but today, Latour said, it has since evolved into a variety
of forms and used for just about any occasion. "I've seen them given as
graduation gifts made of dollar bills, or as Christmas gifts with little liquor
bottles," he added.
Latour returned from one of his island excursions and decided to make a
lei for a friend as a gift. She told two friends, and they told two friends
and so on, and so on .... "Before I know it, I had a business on my hands,"
Latour said. He decided to make his name official last September and
become a registered member of the Small Businesses Association, where
he has learned to market this floral explosion he had suddenly uncovered.
Since September, established papers like the New York Times and
The Washington Post have published articles on his peculiar line of work,
which substantially boosted business for him. "It's been fun, a whole lot of fun,"
he said, borrowing the ice cream mogul's Ben & Jerry's time-honored adage,
"If it's not fun, why do it?"
"Leis are great because they're a flower you can wear," he said.
"It's nice and off-beat and a lot easier than toting a dozen roses around."
Latour said he is looking into franchising his business and is in the process
of tying his operation into a charity. As a former Big Brother, Latour said he
is negotiating with the corporate office of Big Brothers/Big Sisters to donate
a certain percentage of the profits to the various chapters across the U.S.
But this summer, Latour is content with distributing his handiwork to
Rehoboth Beach and neighboring towns, and possibly getting some additional
ribbing about that name.
To order a lei, contact Steve "The Lei Man" Latour at 202-667-5347 (LEIS)
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE HOUSE OF FLOWERS
Steve Latour delivers handmade leis in Washington. For $90, he sends along a hula dancer.
WASHINGTON -- Steve Latour gets a lot of jokes when he calls himself The Lei Man, but after only three months of making and delivering fresh leis, he's hiring an assistant, moving out of his Mount Pleasant home in northwest Washington and smiling all day long. He may also give more traditional florists a run for their money. Mr. Latour personally delivers handmade orchid or carnation leis to offices and homes. Yes, he wears a Hawaiian shirt and even says "Aloha."
In Hawaii, leis are presented on all sorts of occasions: to the athletes who have just won races, to students who have just graduated (although sometimes their leis are made of folded dollar bills) and to businessmen in a ceremony that promises good fortune. "You feel a little regal," said Mr. Latour, who received a lei himself after finishing a marathon in Honolulu.
In recent years, he has tended bar on the Delaware shore of Maryland and spent his winters in Honolulu, where he worked at Tom Selleck's bar, the Black Orchid. "I was living out of two bags, with golf clubs over my shoulder," he said. "Come Labor Day, I'd pack up."
In Honolulu, Mr. Latour read up on Hawaiian culture and lei making. And on May 1, the Hawaiian Lei Day, he attended the lei-making contests.
A few months ago, Mr. Latour decided he wanted to send a friend a lei, but he said Washington florists were charging over $70 and (800) FLOWERS, the national flower delivery service, delivered leis only in Hawaii. So Mr. Latour opened his own business, and during his morning runs, he left business cards and fliers on the windshields of parked cars. While bartending at night at Blues Alley in Georgetown, he made and delivered about 100 leis in the last three months.
For $90, Mr. Latour sends along a hula dancer to deliver the lei. "It was tough to find a hula dancer," he said. Senator Daniel K. Akaka, Democrat of Hawaii, steered him in the right direction. The deliveries Mr. Latour likes best are the orders from anonymous friends or unknown admirers. One man received a lei sent anonymously to his office and kept asking Mr. Latour who it was from. Mr. Latour wouldn't tell him. "There is that client/lei maker privilege," he said.
Maryann Michalakis, a graphic designer in Washington, received a lei three weeks ago for her birthday. "I was having lunch, and in walked the Lei Man with this beautiful white and pink orchid lei," she said. "And I've got that New York disease - I usually wear all black. It perked things right up."
Mr. Latour said he has been thinking about expanding his business, since he travels to New York twice a month to visit friends and often gets requests there for leis. A month ago, he delivered a lei from a secret admirer to Joan Berkowitz, a real estate asset manager at Lehman Brothers in Manhattan. "I was quite surprised," she said. "It's really pretty sensual. It's sort of a breath of fresh air. It reminds you of paradise.
THE WASHINGTON POST
"People think I'm some big Hawaiian guy in a wild shirt working in a tiki shack," says Steve Latour as he threads a needle through the base of a purple and white orchid. "As you can see, that's not the case at all.
Indeed. Latour is compact and wiry. The Hawaiian confusion arises because when he isn't at his full-time job tending bar at Blues Alley in Georgetown, he's working on his part-time identity as Washington's "Lei Man." Latour is an expert at crafting leis, the flower garlands most commonly associated with the arrival of dazed tourists in the Aloha State. He stitches them together miles away from any beach, in his Mount Pleasant kitchen.
Latour says he learned the "kui method" of flower-stringing "from an old Hawaiian woman in a muumuu giving lessons under a tree" during a stay in Hawaii four years ago. He turned his hobby into a business four months ago after trying to buy a lei for a friend. "A florist said, yeah, we can make a lei, but it's a hassle and it will cost you at least $70. I said, I could make this cheaper."
He charges $30 to $50 each ("hula delivery" extra), and along with the necklace - which will last for about three days - comes a list of "lei etiquette" suggestions ("try not to sleep on it") and a candy Kiss in lieu of the traditional real one. It takes Latour about half an hour to assemble a 60 orchid lei, a task he calls "therapeutic." Wearing one, he points out, has psychic benefits too. "I've noticed they make you relaxed," Latour says. "Like, how tense can you be when you're wearing 60 flowers? I'm convinced this town is ready for them."
ALOHA! Bartender Steve Latour started his lei business to give chilled Washingtonians a taste of the islands. Steve Latour wasn't always The Lei Man. Back in 1991, he was just an ordinary guy who hated the cold.
Unfortunately, he lives in Washington, DC. So that year when the mercury dipped below freezing, Latour, a bartender by trade, headed to Hawaii... and came back a changed man. He had learned the art of making leis, the flower necklaces traditionally given as a welcoming gesture to visitors of the Aloha State.
After Latour made a lei as a birthday gift for a friend, word quickly spread about his new skill. By November 1993, Latour decided to open for business (from his living room) dubbing himself The Lei Man.
Too broke to advertise, Latour tried a few ad hoc public relations tactics. "When the blizzard of 1994 hit, I borrowed a friend's four wheel drive vehicle and dropped off leis for the weather forecasters at local TV stations," says Latour, who enclosed a note reading: "Hope this brightens your forecast." That evening, forecasters at the Fox station wore their leis and gave Latour the plug he was looking for.
Latour overnights leis, which typically cost $30 to $50 depending on the flowers used, as far away as Los Angeles but delivers local orders himself. Or, for $90, Washingtonians can get a real taste of the islands: a lei delivered by a Hawaiian dancer in full grass-skirt regalia.
HONOLULU STAR BULLETIN
THE LEI MAN -- A former bartender puts a little aloha into a bleak winter in Washington, DC.
"How tense can you be when you're wearing a lei? It's something this town could really use" -
WASHINGTON -- This often drab city, drained of even more color by an especially brutal winter, has been brightened in recent weeks by a Hawaiian tradition. Fresh flower leis are popping up in offices, restaurants and homes.
For these splashes of color, Washingtonians can thank entrepreneur Steve Latour, also known as "The Lei Man."
"People are starting to know me in this town," Latour said. "In the bank the other day, someone asked me, 'Are you the Lei Man?'"
Indeed, Latour, 35, is making a name - and some cash - for himself by importing the centuries-old Hawaiian tradition of lei-giving to the nation's capital. In the process, he is also bringing some color - and, he hopes, some serenity - to this gray, often tense town.
"How tense can you be when you're wearing a lei?" asks Latour, whose fledgling lei-making and delivery business has been profiled in The New York Times and The Washington Post. "It's something this town could really use."
Latour's business began, oddly, as a search for what he calls "a real job." He grew up in Upstate New York, but for most of his adult life was a bartender in Washington. A few years back, he began spending winters in Honolulu, where he tended bar, and the rest of the year in a Delaware beach town, where he also tended bar.
Not a bad life, but Latour returned to Washington last year, convinced it was time for something a bit more grown up. He stumbled into the lei business more or less by accident. Latour had learned how to make leis at a Lei Day festival in Kapiolani Park a couple of years ago. Back in Washington, he made a lei for a friend's birthday. The response was so positive, he decided to make more. They were popular as well. So he made more, and started selling them.
"You can find leis here, but it's not easy and they cost you $70 to $80," Latour said. He had business cards printed touting himself as "The Lei Man" (he has since registered the name as a trademark) and took out a couple of advertisements in small local newspapers. He began buying orchids and carnations at a local wholesale florist and got a friend in Hawaii to send a half dozen lei needles.
He lined up a couple of hula dancers - one traditional, the other "with a grass skirt and coconut bra" - to add some flair to his deliveries. (The standard delivery, sans hula dancer, which Latour and his newly hired assistant make in Hawaiian print shirts and which come with a smile, a kiss or a handshake and a card explaining "Lei Etiquette", cost $15. The leis are $35 to $50.)
"I've shipped leis to Seattle, Tampa, Atlanta," he said. Business in New York is so brisk that he regularly sends batches of leis to associates there for delivery. He's had inquiries about setting up franchises in other cities and is looking into the prospect.
In short, The Lei Man has become so busy he has tended bar only one night in the past couple of weeks. "Business is blooming," Latour said. "Business is just amazing."
Latour takes about 20 to 30 minutes to string a lei and knows he's no lei-making wizard. "I'm sure the ladies in Hawaii make them a lot faster than me," he said. And while he's gotten nothing but support for his new venture from his friends in Hawaii, he worries some native Hawaiians might be offended by the prospect of a white guy from the mainland in the lei business. "I worry about that, but what can I do?" Latour said.
In the meantime, The Lei Man, a bachelor who works out of his Washington townhouse, is hatching more plans. "Every morning I wake up shaking with new ideas," he said. "I've got a million ideas and they're not all good. I'm working on a slogan now - maybe 'Live longer, wear leis' or 'Spread the aloha spirit.' I was thinking of asking people to trade in their guns for leis, like 'guns for roses.' I'm also thinking of going to the White House every day to try to give leis to the Clintons.."
While his business is so new it barely qualifies as fledgling, Latour marvels at his good fortune so far. "I just come downstairs in the morning in my bathrobe, drink coffee and start work. It's not even a real job yet. Everyday I just wake up smiling and go to bed smiling."
And how far will this lei business go? "I'm riding the wave 'til it crashes on the beach," Latour said.
WILMINGTON, DE NEWS JOURNAL
GETTING LEI'D AT THE BEACH
Entrepreneur does a blooming business
REHOBOTH BEACH, DE -- When talk turns to coconut bras, The Lei Man dives right in. Coconut bras? "Sure," Steve Latour says. "One size fits all but they're a little hard to find in Rehoboth so we thought we'd use string bikini tops this summer. Besides we're still test-marketing."
Latour, a tanned and well-traveled bartender turned entrepreneur, is excited about his newest venture, The Lei Ladies, a fantasy concoction he brewed as a chaser for his budding business.
The non-stop marathoner who says he "makes a mean pina colada" also makes and sells Hawaiian leis, an idea that's brought him national notoriety "better than Barney" and launched The Lei Ladies. "They're cute, a lot cuter than me," Latour says of Rima and Adrienne Meyer, twin 23-year olds who won't whine about wearing hairy coconut bras and whose father is a Baltimore wholesale florist. "They're perfect," pronounces Latour, who met the twins at a boardwalk deli. "And of course they'll be wearing grass hula skirts."
His plan is to procure a peddler's license from the city of Rehoboth and let The Lei Ladies loose in area bars to sell as many plumeria or dendrobium leis as the market will bear. "It's a natural and the girls may offer pictures too. I mean, girls, guys, bars, leis, what more could you want?"
Latour's 36 inch lei fashioned from 50 or 60 orchids and carnations sell for $30 to $40. He also offers an $8 wrist/ankle lei "or it could be a hair scrunchy." Latour makes all his leis with Hawaiian lei needles he picked up in Honolulu where he tended bar at Tom Selleck's Black Orchid nightclub and, in his off hours, trained for marathons, sharpened his golf game and learned the ancient Polynesian art of lei making.
Weaving the tropical flowers on a yard of kite string takes him about 20 minutes. Leis last from three to five days. Birthdays, weddings and farewell parties are traditional lei-giving opportunities although Hawaiians believe any occasion suits to "lei someone."
After crafting a lei for a friend's birthday last fall, Latour found the response so positive he created The Lei Man, a lei-making delivery and shipping business he operates out of his Washington, DC town house. "I present the lei wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sing songs or read poems, whatever the sender wants, for an additional fee," says Latour. And always with an "Aloha.!"
He's been profiled in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Honolulu Star Bulletin and featured on the Unistar and Talk America radio networks. Washington television personalities wear his leis on air and he's sent leis to David Letterman, Regis and Kathie Lee, even the White House whose chief occupant personally signed a thank you. "I get recognized at the bank now. 'You're The Lei Man,' it's great!", says Latour, a bartender at Georgetown's Blues Alley jazz club who could double as Comedy Club alumnus.
Now he wants to make waves at Delaware beaches where he figures the splashy Lei Ladies will pedal his product best. And Latour, who was a veteran bartender at Fran O'Brien's and the Garden Gourmet, is back in Rehoboth every weekend mixing drinks at Sydney's Side Street Restaurant at 20 Christian Street. But he spends more time schmoozing about The Lei Ladies or making leis than bartending. His refrigerator is full of flowers. "I eat out a lot," he says.
The lei business obviously outweighs any inconvenience. And there's less second-hand smoke and more satisfaction. "There's never a bad day in the lei world. It's all good vibes. I mean it's not like I'm delivering nuclear waste."
The one-time journalism major at Syracuse University even speaks of franchising. "What else could I find," he asks, "where I can lay down on my couch, drink beer and watch TV and still do my job? Leis have led me down many paths. I never thought I'd be shopping for coconuts bras."
WASHINGTON CITY PAPER
Lei-ing It On Thick (A study in naked self-promotion)
"I've got a call into Guinness now," says Steve Latour, alias The Lei Man, who runs a lei-making and delivery service from his Mount Pleasant home. "I wanna find out if they keep records on the world's longest lei. If they do, I figure I'll set it . That's not a bad idea, huh?"
Compared to other self-promotional schemes hatched by the one-time Hawaiian slacker, the Guinness angle appears downright classy. By Latour's own admission, he'll do nearly anything for publicity. When pressed for a provocative photo to accompany this article, he even abandoned his longtime motto regarding publicity: "No shame, no dignity, but no frontal nudity."
As that motto implies, only rarely does Latour yield to good taste. Late last year, he began offering a funeral lei. His first taker was a New Englander whose Hawaii-following pal would be soon pushing up the daisies. "I was just about to ask the customer if she'd take a photo of the guy wearing a lie in the coffin," he says. "But I decided at the last minute that that might be too much. I settled for just getting a new slogan out of the experience: 'Lei'd to rest!'"
Such shenanigans make terrific newspaper copy, and Latour knows it. He gleefully rattles off publications that have fallen prey to his charms or aggression. He's appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post, along with a host of obscurities; something called the Washington Beverage Journal is responsible for the freshest clip in his flowering scrapbook.
(Full disclosure: Washington City Paper has been more than an enabler. Latour traces his PR back to 1993, when a 300-word blurb detailed the launch of his business.)
Latour has been known to leave leis in the dressing room at Blues Alley, one of a host of local watering holes where he fills in behind the bar, in hopes that the visiting artist will hit stage wearing his wares. So far, Sally "Hot Lips Houlihan" Kellerman and trumpeter Maynard Ferguson have taken the bait.
Latour's latest bid for the media spotlight involves the District's cable-access station. District Cablevision prohibits overt advertising of products or services, but Latour has stretched that policy to its outer limit. So far, he's taped two episodes of "Lei Man's World." For 30 minutes, he and guest or guess sit in a local restaurant, ostensibly reviewing meals and movies while attired in Hawaiian garb (leis required). At the end of each episode, viewers are asked to phone in their own movie reviews. The number shown will in fact connect callers to Latour's floral service, the name of which also adorns the MC's hat. Alas, District Cablevision has yet to schedule an air date for the show.
As for the world's biggest lei, Latour eventually ascertains that Guinness does, in fact, register such a record: 200 feet. Characteristically, the big number doesn't dismay him. "I'm told that was a paper lei," he says, "So I'm going to try to get the record for a real floral lei. I could go at least 60 feet without any problem. I've just gotta get a sponsor."