Keeping the Dream Alive in Caribbean Belize - International Living

Keeping the Dream Alive in Caribbean Belize
©iStock/Simon Dannhauer

“Why are we waiting?” That was the question I posed to my wife, Heather, as we laid in bed one night back in 2018. For years, we’d been talking about opening a small beach resort in the Caribbean, but as working parents, the discussion had always begun and ended with, “Once the kids have finished school…”

This time it was different, though. I had recently sold a successful tech business that my brother and I started in 2010, and Heather’s leadership consulting role had moved primarily online. With no work commitments holding us back, and figuring we weren’t getting any younger, we opted to raise the resort idea with our 12- and 17-year old sons. Somewhat to our surprise, they were both on board, so we decided to go for it.

Initially, we set our sights on a small, eight-room hotel on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. After visiting the site, we made an offer. But while working through the due diligence, we came across some financial irregularities. Concerned, we pulled out of the deal.

Several months passed until one afternoon, Heather proposed that we check out Placencia, a resort village set on a stunning 16-mile peninsula on the Caribbean in Belize. Several years before, we’d started a sailing trip there and it had made a strong impression. We flew down and spent three days buzzing around on a rented golf cart, visiting property after property. On our last night in Placencia, I went looking for a pool where we could cool off, relax, and maybe enjoy a drink. On Facebook, I found a place called Fusion Beach. It seemed to be closed, but we decided to check it out anyway. Upon arriving, we found it was completely overgrown with vegetation. Still, there was something captivating about the property.

Back in the States, Heather and I started to discuss the idea of running a beach club rather than a full resort. With no previous experience in hospitality, we worried that a resort might be taking on too much. Our new concept was for something like a country club but right on the coast, with a bar, restaurant, pool, and beach access. This would allow us to start small, get some experience, and build from there. The Fusion Beach property seemed perfect for this, so we decided to make an offer and see what happened.

It took about six months to close the deal, but on December 7, 2018, Heather and I officially became the new owners. We immediately kicked off the restoration, which included all new decking, the addition of a swim-up bar in the pool, and upgrades to the restaurant building and kitchen.

While the renovations were underway in Belize, we were back in the U.S. selling nearly everything we owned. For years I had joked with my oldest son that as soon as he graduated from high school, I would sell his room. Two weeks after he graduated, I did just that, along with the rest of the family home. And two days later, Heather and I moved to Belize with our younger son, who is now enrolled in the international school here.

We spent much of the summer handling administrative issues. Food handlers’ permits, work permits, golf cart registration…the list seemed endless. It took longer than expected and our summer opening was postponed several months. But finally, on September 12 last year, we opened the doors of Placencia Beach Club and welcomed our first guests.

When the busy tourist season arrived Christmas week, our fledgling business started picking up steam, to the point that we welcomed slower days so we’d have a chance to catch our breath. Then, just as we were getting into our stride, the world turned on its head.

In early March, we took a trip back to the States to visit our older son, and when we returned to Placencia everyone was talking about COVID-19. By mid-March, tourism to our little resort town had disappeared. We saw our sales drop 50%, then 80%. Over the next 12 weeks, we had to reinvent our business virtually every two weeks to keep up with government regulations to tackle the pandemic. First, we started providing a takeout and delivery service, before later adding meal kits, heat-and-eat meals, and other options to appeal to local residents.

As one of the few restaurants that remained open throughout the entire lockdown, the Placencia community embraced what we were doing. Many locals ordered delivery and takeout, and when we were allowed to reopen in a limited way on June 1, they came back and graciously followed the strict social distancing guidelines. On July 1, we were able to return to almost normal operations.Sales have doubled from our lowest month.Our hope is that the worst is now behind us. Sales have doubled from our lowest month in April and are continuing to grow. In fact, planning is now underway for phase two of Placencia Beach Club. We still have a ways to go to get back to where we were, but our dream of a sustainable beachfront business in a tropical paradise is still very much alive.

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