Paul Michael Domitrovich died at 3:28 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 6 at his winter residence in Coral Gables, Fla. He was 81.

He transitioned peacefully after a long and valiant fight to survive complications due to advanced heart disease. His final days were spent surrounded by friends and family who came by to eat, drink, and pay their respects.

Born in Detroit, Mich. on June 12, 1935, to Croatian immigrants — the late 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 (usually left 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 college. He had many lives and jobs in his post-collegiate years (including a stint as a model for the cover of romance novels, and as an owner of a Hawaiian go-cart franchise), but most of his friends and family only knew select excerpts from that time. Despite his incredible sincerity and open-hearted presence he always had an air of mystery about him.

Eventually he 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, the mother of his daughter, Celene. He married his second wife, Katherine (Lola) Domitrovich in 1982 and had his 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 crazy glue, doing whatever needed to be done to make sure that his restaurant and his family were thriving.

In the early ‘90s he moved to Long Island, where he supported his family by 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 found a property that was in foreclosure. Through some creative negotiations with the local, state, and federal governments, the Domitrovich family managed to take over the 300-seat bar and restaurant, opening 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 house, going from table to table checking on everyone and 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 on 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 his outfits at the yearly Mardi Gras celebration, when 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 Domitrovichs’ 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 six-foot-high ostrich feather and rhinestone “collar,” bloomers, tights, crown, scepter and size 15 knee-high 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 kindest, gentlest people and 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 died he assured friends and family 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 p.m. There will be a memorial service on Martha’s Vineyard at the second bridge on Saturday, June 24 at 8 p.m., with a reception to follow at Lola’s Restaurant, 15 Island Inn Road, between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. Email to RSVP.

In lieu of flowers his family asks for donations to WYOB, the Martha’s Vineyard Radio Station, which Paul enjoyed so thoroughly in his last years. With a predominantly reggae music format, WYOB-LP at 105.5 FM is a non-commercial but professionally produced radio station at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, teaching students radio station fundamentals. Checks sent with the note In Memory of Paul Domitrovich will go directly to the final extension of the station’s radio tower. 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. For online donations visit