The Bob Marley's One Love restaurant opened in July at Montego Bay's Sangster International Airport (SIA), with the creation of 70 new jobs across a range of hospitality roles. Operated by Montego Bay-based Express Catering Limited (ECL) and its parent company Margaritaville Caribbean Group, the restaurant pays homage to the iconic legacy of Jamaica's most famous musical artiste.
With a prominent location at the heart of the terminal, beyond security and accessible only to those departing SIA, which serves over four million passengers annually, the establishment is strategically positioned for tourists and outbound Jamaicans before their flight.
Home-cooked food, travel, and meeting people from all over the world were passions of Bob Marley which feature in this new concept. The restaurant is built around an authentic Jamaican pimento wood grill serving a Jamaican and international menu infused with fresh Caribbean and Ital dishes.
ECL's CEO Ian Dear, in explaining the genesis of the project which is a collaboration with the Marley family through About Marley Merchandising LLC, related that ECL was approached by Rita and Ziggy Marley 16-17 years ago but the company was not ready to execute the project.
However, about 3-4 years ago when ECL felt they were in a better position to do justice to Bob Marley's legacy, they re-engaged with the enthusiastic Marley family and this ultimately led to the decision to launch the Bob Marley's One Love hospitality brand influenced by Bob Marley's significance as a global presence for Jamaica in music and culture.
"And that's basically how the journey started, again," Dear reflected, "And we inked the deal in the middle of COVID. It took us a little while to finalise all the details because our outlook is obviously creating the right experience and credibility around the brand cemented in Jamaica, and the first location is at the Sangster International Airport, but we have big plans.
"For the airport it is a huge brand to be launched there," he continued. "It's the first one of its type in the world and so we are very, very proud of it. We have put a lot of time and effort into trying to ensure that we created the right experience and to do honour by Bob Marley. Ultimately, that's the goal."
The Bob Marley's One Love restaurant design is a relaxed and contemporary vibe with a touch of nostalgic retro. Working with the Marley Group of Companies, London-based The Design Solution selected materials, colours, and textures inspired by Bob Marley's legacy, artistic creativity, and life, including his home at 56 Hope Road and Marley's Tuff Gong recording studio in Kingston. His love of Jamaica's fresh natural produce, that he farmed at his childhood home in Nine Mile, St Ann, is celebrated with the addition of a multi-layered, fresh herb garden display in the restaurant.
The ambitious project spurred the creation of 70 new jobs to see it through.
Mark Sutherland, vice-president of ECL, revealed that the new jobs cover various positions in the service industry from servers, bartenders and cooks to stewards, managers and supervisors and the recruitment process was a challenging one due to the current shortage of labour.
"It was difficult to say the least," Sutherland shared. "You know post-COVID has changed the world and Jamaica is not excluded from that. It's hard to find good talent but I think we have a good nucleus of people with good skill sets and they can grow from there."
"What I have seen is that since Marley has been opened there has been more of a draw and people coming to the table that want to work for Bob Marley One Love," he added enthusiastically.
For an enterprise that is promoting a culture of Bob Marley and not just food, the training of staff was always going to be complex.
Jayson Dear, general manager of Bob Marley's One Love, explained part of the unique process.
"Of course, there is a training regimen for the staff in terms of knowing the brand and, of course, knowing the menu but this one seems to hold a stronger need for understanding what Bob represented, the history of Bob and the Marley family, and explaining that to the guests as they come through the airport, in the right way," he said. "We have done the most to ensure the staff understand the importance of that. So we have gone to the Marley museum in Kingston and had orientations with the staff to really drive home those ideas."
The performance of the restaurant since its opening in July has exceeded expectations, according to the management of the company.
"Our fiscal year starts in June and we had a budget for Bob Marley's One Love starting in June," Sutherland said. "We opened, I think it was the 19th of July, and if the forecast holds true to the end of August we should basically make up what we did not make in June."
The vice-president also disclosed that the restaurant's big cheeseburger is the number one seller. But other dishes like jerk, the ital stew, curry chicken, curry goat, and items from the jade grill have been very popular. The ambiance and decor have also been well-received by tourists, showcasing various representations of Bob Marley's life and legacy beyond just his records and musical career.
Jamaicans passing through the airport have given positive feedback about the authenticity of the local dishes.
The Marley family emphasised support for local farmers with Ziggy Marley, in particular, keen on highlighting local ingredients. Produce and herbs are 100 per cent local. Chicken and fish are also local while tenderloin is imported.
Ian Dear disclosed that an official launch of the restaurant is planned for later this year with expansion of the brand to other markets envisioned for the future.
"We take great pride in the fact that we have managed to partner with the Marley family in achieving this," the CEO declared. "So the journey has just begun and we do have big plans from the perspective of Jamaica, the Caribbean, the United States. We have big plans for the brand and we feel it has incredible legs and can do almost anything and we plan to be the creators and the drivers of it in partnership with the Marley family."
Sutherland echoed the idea of taking the brand global and added that "what it represents for us at [ECL], I mean it gives us another growth vehicle, I would say another international growth vehicle, besides Margaritaville and some of our QSR [quick service restaurant] concepts.
"Because of the demographic that comes through the airport it is going to be a good test for us on how well it was received â€”and so far, so good," Sutherland stated.
Reflecting on the performance of the restaurant so far, Ian Dear insisted that "we are very proud of it and we will only get better as time goes along."
Retail is a significant aspect of the restaurant's offerings, he disclosed, allowing visitors to purchase items that connect them to the experience.
"It will remind them of that great time that they had upon leaving at the airport as the greatest 'last lick' or the greatest last experience before leaving our shores," Dear said. "And hopefully that will contribute in a positive way for them to want to come back and experience Jamaica over and over again."