Paul Michael Domitrovich, 81, died at 3:28 am on Sunday, Feb. 6, at his winter residence in Coral Gables, Fla. Mr. Domitrovich transitioned peacefully after a long and valiant fight to survive complications of advanced heart disease. His final days were spent surrounded by friends and family who came by to pay their respects.
Born in Detroit, Mich., on June 12, 1935, to Croatian immigrants Michael Paul Domitrovich and Matilda Irek, Paul was raised with his sister, Ilene, and his two brothers, Edward and Tommy, whom he survived. Paul was a good Catholic and an even better troublemaker. He was known as Demmy or “the Fist,” but despite his rambunctious tendencies, even at a young age he was always impeccably groomed and attired.
Paul played football at St. Benedict high school (defensive tackle), and after receiving a full sports scholarship from Alma College, he was recruited by the Michigan State football team. Despite a shoulder injury which ended his sports career, Paul went on to become the first member of his family to graduate from college. He had many lives and jobs in his postcollegiate years (including a stint as a model for the cover of romance novels, and as an owner of a Hawaiian go-cart franchise).
Eventually Paul went into a career in advertising, starting at Campbell Ewald in Detroit, then moving to New York City to work at BBDO. He represented creative talents in the automobile industry, and was known for showing people a good time on the town. In 1967, Paul married his first wife, Christine, mother of his daughter Celene. He married his second wife, Katherine “Lola” Domitrovich in 1982, and they had their son Michael soon after.
Paul began his career as a restaurateur when he and Lola opened Ham Heaven in New York City in 1983. He was a devoted husband, father, and businessman, crisscrossing the city in cars that were held together by coat hangers and Krazy Glue, doing whatever needed to be done to make sure that his restaurant and his family were thriving.
In the early ’90s, Paul moved to Long Island, where he supported his family selling real estate and advertisements in local papers. After opening and closing another restaurant, called The Other Place, the family took a vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, where Lola spotted a property for sale on their way to the ferry. Following some creative negotiations, the Domitrovich family opened the 300-seat bar and restaurant, Lola’s Southern Seafood, in the summer of 1994.
Lola’s went on to become one of the most popular year-round restaurants and music venues on the Vineyard. Customers and friends will fondly remember Paul working the front of the house, going from table to table checking on everyone, eating big spoonfuls of Mr G’s Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce, to the delight and amazement of patrons. When he wasn’t in the main dining room he was in the bar, dancing with patrons, or somewhere in the attic or basement, coming up with creative maintenance solutions to keep the restaurant running smoothly. Anyone who’s dined at Lola’s will remember Paul holding a blowtorch while singing “Happy Birthday” at full volume in his birthday cake hat and vest. Even more memorable were Paul’s outfits at the yearly Mardi Gras celebration, where he would show up wearing one of Lola’s bathing suits or negligees. As Paul was often heard saying at that time, “Lola does the steak, but I do the sizzle.”
In 2003, the Domitroviches connection to New Orleans cuisine and culture reached its pinnacle when Paul was crowned King Shangri-La XXIX. King Paul was presented at the court and paraded through the streets of New Orleans in 2004 on his own float, throwing beads and gesturing grandly at the attendees gathered along the parade route. He had a full costume custom-made for him, including a 6-foot-high ostrich-feather-and-rhinestone “collar,” bloomers, tights, crown, scepter, and size 15 kneehigh white leather boots. For many years the costume was on display in the dining room at Lola’s, surrounded by pictures, beads, and more than a few undergarments.
Despite his imposing stature, gigantic hands, and size 15 feet, “King” Paul Domitrovich was one of the kindest, gentlest people, and was endlessly optimistic. He believed that the most important things in life were to be shared. He loved zydeco and blues music, dancing, smiling, salty meats, rolling rocks, and gin martinis. He never denied himself or his loved ones a smile, a hug, a snack, a drink, or a nap. For a man so strongly connected to the people, places, and things in his life, there was always a far-off knowing that sparkled in his eyes. In his final days he was a font of wisdom and poetry, often speaking in rhymes and gazing upon his doctors, nurses, friends, and family with eyes that were unnervingly warm, clear, and full of grace. He was a man who made people feel seen and loved just by looking at them.
A few days before he passed, he assured us all with a revelation (seemingly referring to his higher power), saying, “He’s not separating us inseparably, he’s just repositioning us.”
We salute you, King Paul, as you take off for your final Mardi Gras parade route in the sky.
There will be a funeral Mass in Coral Gables on Monday, Feb. 13, at 12 noon.
There will be a memorial service on Martha’s Vineyard at the Second Bridge on Saturday, June 24, at 8 pm, with a reception to follow at Lola’s Restaurant, 15 Island Inn Road, between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to RSVP.
In lieu of flowers, we ask that any gifts be in the form of a donation to WYOB, the Martha’s Vineyard radio station which Paul enjoyed so thoroughly in his last years. If you send a check with the note “In Memory of Paul Domitrovich,” the funds will go directly to an extension of the station’s tower, which will enable the signal to be broadcast farther and clearer. All donations are tax-deductible.
Checks can be sent to: M & M Community Development Inc., Oak Bluffs Branch, P.O. Box 1326,
Oak Bluffs, MA 02557. If you prefer to donate online, please go to wyob.org/support.