Business

Big Plans For Bellefield Great House

Ambition to make Bellefield western Jamaica's No 1 attraction

BY ALEXIS MONTEITH
Observer writer

Sunday, May 19, 2019

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The Montego Bay-based father and son entrepreneurial team of Robbie Josephs Sr and Robbie Josephs Jr recently started their new project, Bellefield Great House Ltd, in the tourism capital.

The business, which is a joint venture with the well-known Montego Bay Kerr-Jarrett family who are owners of the famous great house and former sugar plantation, includes a new restaurant, the Bellefield Restaurant and Bar, on-property tours, event and wedding management, and an expansion of the Josephs' catering business. The restaurant was opened in December of last year.

The Josephs are well known for their catering business, Robbie Josephs Catering, as well as their two Ol' Joe restaurants in Montego Bay featuring Jamaican cuisine and quick service.

The 62-year-old father and chef also has a reputation for his previous projects spanning many years which include The Seahorse Grill at the Yacht Club in Montego Bay, the Brewery restaurant, The Dock Bar & Grill, and Nikita's restaurant on the Hip Strip.

His 29-year-old son, who studied at The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute at Drew University in New Jersey joined him in the food service business in 2016 to assist when Robbie Sr became seriously ill during the start-up of the Ol' Joe enterprise. Thankfully, Robbie Sr recovered, and his son has become a permanent fixture in their operations.

The decision to move from what was exclusively a food service business into the tourism industry was primarily the initiative of Robbie Josephs Jr. The two operated The Seahorse Grill at the Yacht Club, which Josephs Sr opened in 2009 but their market was made up of a very limited demographic of customers from the surrounding and nearby upscale areas.

“I was the one that rallied for the new relationship with Bellefield and decided that it was better for us than at the Yacht Club,” revealed Josephs Jr. “There was no room for growth at the Yacht Club. We saw the challenge at Bellefield but it was also an opportunity for growth, and, of course, I anticipated the various challenges that it would bring, but it was all for the bigger picture.”

These challenges according to Robbie Jr included learning the tour business, managing a large, old historical property and negotiating deals with hotels and tour companies. But the pay-off of new revenue streams in addition to food service, larger space for their catering operations, weddings and events as well as increased restaurant capacity were the major pluses.

“It is definitely a learning curve. The tour industry is a very new space for us,” Josephs Jr pointed out. “Taking over a great house also has hidden problems. Everyday something needs to be fixed and infrastructure checked.”

The new restaurant is located in the old sugar mill on the property, and seats up to 250 people. The gardens, for which the great house is famous, have even larger capacity for weddings and special events.

The Josephs have already started a “Living History Tour” of the historical landmark, which includes the great house, the sugar mill, which is now the restaurant, the 100-year-old Chattanooga, which is a donkey-operated miniature version of the original sugar mill, a new boiler house and a jerk chicken demonstration that illustrates the meal's preparation and offers sampling.

Another excursion is also offered in association with Caribbean Producers Jamaica Limited (CPJ) who has built a rum tasting classroom on the property using the Caribbean brands that it carries. Guests can sample the rums, learn how to make cocktails, acquire recipes, and discover the various notes and character profiles of the rums.

Despite the heavy tourism emphasis, the property still caters to a local market as the Josephs' businesses have always done in Montego Bay. Josephs Jr explained that the restaurant attracts a strong local clientele with a much more expanded demographic than they had previously.

“We're seeing a lot of new faces,” he said. “We are getting a wider cross section of people. Certain liquors that would never move at our previous location are moving here rapidly. The guests are experimenting.”

Another change that was implemented along with the move to Bellefield was to build a more product-based brand instead of the more personal brand that had existed before. Previous restaurants have been strongly associated with Josephs Sr whose culinary skills are widely acknowledged in the region and who has a reputation for close interaction with his guests.

However, within the tourism market, Josephs Jr notes the importance of the product's value in terms of selling itself. Ultimately the quality of the tours, the variety of experiences, the history of the property, and the uniqueness of the culinary offerings have a longer reach into the tourism market than personality alone.

“Take the name and personality out of it,” he insisted. “Build the brand.”

On the property itself, in terms of customer service, personality is still important and Josephs Sr is always active on the ground as a chef and food and beverage manager — going to events and meeting customers which is where his strengths lie. The day-to-day administration from the office is handled by his son.

The two men have very different skills, but Josephs Jr notes that this father-and-son partnership has worked well in advancing their business objectives.

“We both have very strong personalities, but our brains work differently, but we always see our common goal,” the younger Josephs explained. “He sees it from a more creative perspective being a chef, and I see things in black and white. It is two different languages, but I think that is what has always helped us somehow get to an end result that makes sense. He has to compromise. I have to compromise and together we reach our goal.”

The weddings and events on the property consist of a mix of local clients and customers from overseas.

Plans for the future include the addition of more tours as well as cooking classes next year, which will be paired with a signature culinary event. The company will be reinvesting in the historical landmark's famous gardens and setting up a greenhouse to grow flowers as well as fruits and vegetables for the restaurant. The long-term goal is to develop a botanical garden which would be a signature place to visit in Montego Bay.

When asked what is his vision for Bellefield in the next three years, Josephs Jr offered a confident reply.

“It will be the number one attraction in western Jamaica,” he said — his face oozing with confidence.


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