Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Two Years Later

The first post on this blog represents in retrospect our meager beginnings at Beaches and Dreams. It is now the third season that Angela and I will be beginning in September of 2008 and we have spent the last 2 summers, from May until September, back in Alaska working at a remote camp in Galena, on the Yukon River, running a kitchen for the Alaska Fire Service. We are just about to head back down to Belize now and look back at the many improvements and changes we made to our beachfront resort and look forward to finishing the projects we have begun down there. So far we have added cement walkways and built a beach side dining deck, remodeled 2 of our 4 rooms and will do the other 2 upon our return in September. we added a tree house cabana that sleeps 4 for families with children and forged many friendships that will last a lifetime. Our plans for this season, as Angela and I are preparing to spend the entire next year there to gain residency and open year round include a dock extension which will house a bar and dining area over the water, and finally remodeling the upstairs living space where we have been staying in a state of semi-construction for the past two seasons. We have closed the resort the past 2 summers during the off season as we returned to Alaska for various reasons, but are now returning to stay and we can't wait!

Our restaurant, now named The Barracuda Bar and Grill, has proven to be just as busy as we wanted and we have gone to doing only breakfast for our guests and dinner 6 nights a week, with a daily happy hour happening from 4-6pm, closed on Tuesday. For a chef, it has moved me closer to the food than I have ever been. Daily forays to the see Francesco, the operator of the local vegetable stand, and a relationship with the actual fisherman who still paddle dugouts out every morning at sunrise, means that besides our base menu, a daily special board featuring just caught lobster and snapper fillets might just be filled out an hour before dinner time. It is a chefs dream, my personal culinary epiphany.

Angela too has reached a pinnacle of confectionery euphoria. Her deserts are highly acclaimed to visitors to the higher end resorts up the beach. It is not uncommon for one "batch" of visitors to extol the virtues of the Italian Rum Cream Torte upon their departure to a new "batch" of visitors as they cross paths on their way to the airport. Indeed, after many tourists have spent 2 or 3 happy hours at our little beachfront deck with us and later closed the bar after a lingering dinner, then a bottle of wine in our company before meandering back up the beach, they have conversations with total strangers telling them about the cuisine from "the Alaskans down the beach."

"You must stop down at the Barracuda Bar and Grill for some of the Mango Cream brulee' " they say, peppering the comment with stories of lingering dinners that started with conch seviche as an appetizer, with a segue of smoked pork tenderloin sliced over spicy black beans and the climactic ending of banana-rum torte. After a conversations at the airport, guests walk down the beach on their first foray in Hopkins and walk right up to us, as if they have known us all their lives. "you must be those guys from Alaska," they say.

"Why yes we are," I answer, and welcome to Beaches and Dreams, Home of the famous Barracuda Bar and Grill!"

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

First Year at Beaches and Dreams

The adventure gene that had laid dormant in my wife and I for 25 years while we raised a family and ran a busy fine dining restaurant in Alaska awoke one minus 40 degree day in our cabin on the Upper Chena River, 30 miles East of Fairbanks.
The fire in our wood-fired Tuscan Oven crackled and gave off an eye level haunting glow on the honey colored logs of our home. We lived off the grid using a combination of solar in the summer and generator in the long, dark and very cold winter, storing power in 4000 pounds of batteries.
Our youngest of three daughters was graduating from high school in 2 years and it would be time to make an exit plan of our own. We had our successful 120 seat restaurant, , to sell, and we would keep the cabin on the river, able to drain it down and leave it. We decided to concentrate on finding a little beachfront property that we could put a small restaurant on and a few rooms........somewhere warm, was our most important feature. We could put the restaurant up for sale and start looking for somewhere to take our next great adventure. Things would be a little easier than the first one that found a young 20 year college junior and his, then girlfriend Angela and her 2 young daughters, packing an $800 van from Ohio and making the 3500 mile drive with all our spare change rolled up under the seat. We now had 25 years of success in the hospitality industry. I was chef doing some TV spots and writing a monthly food column for the local paper and my wife had become a very accomplished pastry chef as well as managing the front of the house. Besides the confidence we had in our business capabilities, we had a little more to start out with than an $800 van and 30 rolls of quarters. Add to that the mettle that comes from living and doing business in a place that can see 2 month stretches of minus 40 degree temeratures, and, its pretty hard to throw us any curveballs.
Armed with this enthusiam, I began the search for our next dream, planning on taking the 2 years before my daughter graduated to find a few places, go and check them out and hopefully selling our restaurant in the meantime to give ourselves the capital to buy what we wanted.
Day one of my cyber-search had brought me to the country of Belize, formerly British Honduras.
English speaking, British Common Law(which is basically the same legal system of the US) and a temperate climate coupled with the fact that the world's second largest barrier reef existed there, it seemed as though property ownership in this politically stable country seemed viable.
After an hour into my day one search, the search that I had 2 years to complete, I googled "beachfront resorts sale Belize," and found a little 4 room beachfront place, already with a small restaurant, on a nice stretch of beach in the little Garifuna fishing village of Hopkins. It was perfect, in my price range, and the name of the place, our beach that we had dreamed of, was actually already named Beaches and Dreams Seafront Inn. The problem was, we still had 2 years to go in our exit plan and this property I knew would not last. We juggled funds and purchased the property in January of 2005 and were able to get an old friend of mine and his new wife and young son to go down and house sit for us for 2 years until we were able to complete our exit plan. Now, Angela and I live in Hopkins at our beachfront resort,, and these are the stories of fresh lobster, grouper and conch and everyday life in the village of Hopkins, on the white beach of Belize.