After five years of running the Guangos Jerk restaurant in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, Kellie Molyneaux-Stewart decided to close its doors at the end of 2022 and look towards new horizons, citing a shift in her priorities. Finding love and getting married while she was still at Guangos, the businesswoman chose to return to her hometown of Montego Bay in the neighbouring St James parish, a decision she made to start a new life, share her time with her husband, further her studies and renew a career in real estate.
Guangos was an enterprise she had started from scratch. Prior to opening the establishment she had worked in real estate and also managed a gas station that was part of her parents’ business. Her transition to the restaurant business in 2017 was her first entrepreneurial journey.
“Guangos was really my first baby,” she declared emphatically. “It was mine.” Soon after opening, Molyneaux Stewart established Guangos in the area not just for food but also for its promotional events.
“It was a place where you have good food and you have some spirits in the midst of it,” she reminisced. “It was a feelgood place and some music to top it up. That was what it was to me.”
The business employed 25 people while other members of the community also benefited from its yearly Appleton Signature Night event, featuring popular musical artists.
“People in the neighbourhood were also making money from it,” Molyneaux Stewart explained. “So because there is not a lot of parking, the homes around the area would sell parking in their yards. And you have your pan chicken man and your drops man and your phone card man, then setting up stalls outside.”
Other special events were kept on holidays and there was karaoke every Tuesday.
“We also used to have crab nights,” the businesswoman related. “That was also a hit. And also there were a couple of years where we went down to the old hospice, which was like a stone’s throw away from Guangos and gave back to people that needed it. And that was good for us. Very good team building and we felt great giving back. Also, we used to do the Montego Bay city run, all of us. The staff, 25 of us, would come over from Westmoreland and do that annually, too.”
It was a rewarding time for Guango’s and the community around it but Molyneaux-Stewart also emphasised that the rewards were more personal and beneficial to her development as a person.
“Like when you just have a new baby, I was always there at night and day, and if I was to leave I wouldn’t leave that baby for more than two days,” she said. “It really gave me a backbone, to be honest. You feel like you’re a different and stronger person, by far, more resilient. It was a humbling experience, so to speak, because I saw everything, all walks of life. I was very involved in my community and also with my staff.”
“So I now understand what we face as people,” Molyneaux-Stewart continued. “My mother and father probably shielded me and of course, they wanted the best for me in life…but this business opened up my eyes to this world, the good and the bad. And I’m able now to assess things a lot better, and try to find solutions not for just myself, but for anybody that’s around me.”
With so many positives from the Guangos experience, how does the entrepreneur seem to almost effortlessly transition away from her “baby” to a new career? The answer, she explains, is the ability to embrace change and welcome growth.
And ironically, this is a quality that her recent business helped to strengthen, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. It was then that she learned that in addition to always being willing to adapt to change, one has to be in a state of preparedness for totally new directions or eventualities.
“So if COVID is coming and now I realise that I’m a manager and I have to step into my kitchen to become a chef for whatever reason, then I have to move to that,” she said reflecting on how she responded to the challenges of the global health crisis. “So that means that I need to be prepared in my business in every way, shape and form within that organisation. You’ve got to put some money aside so that when that day comes you say don’t worry...I can control my team for me and mine. We are not going to starve.”
“Or if it means that you have to get yourself physically ready, meaning you go to the gym, you get yourself healthy, you get your body right, so that you can endure…you have longevity,” she added. “Or if it means you read books or take a course, whatever it is.”
So now she considers herself a stronger person and ready for any new road that lies ahead no matter how challenging. “[Guangos] was just a part of the learning curve and I believe that the only thing in life that is constant is change,” she affirmed.
While Molyneaux-Stewart is not sure that real estate will be able to fulfill the same set of experiences and rewards she gained from running Guangos, she believes it will bring forth a different set of challenges, opening up her mind once again to a different world of business.
She is also certain that the same passion that motivated her at Guangos will be just as useful in her new career.
“I’m about the sales, my salesmanship,” she insisted. “Remember that I am coming from the service industry so the fact that I love serving people, I don’t mind doing that. I’m serving and catering to your needs to ensure that you are happy and comfortable. That is what I look forward to. I put a smile on your face. We’re going to get what you want. You say you want this, I’m here for you.”
The restaurant experience instilled an enhanced understanding of people as well as the qualities of hard work, time management, and consideration for people’s needs, all of which are important in any career.
As she works on the prerequisites to re-enter the real estate field after many years, Molyneaux-Stewart added that she will also be relying on another pillar of her entrepreneurial journey so far which is her spiritual strength — a strength founded on religion, family and friendship.
“You have to have good people in your corner,” she underscored. “On a religious or spiritual basis, you have to have good people around you. I am lucky to have my mother and father and brother, my husband, and my close friends. I’m happy to have maybe about seven or eight people in my life that bring me back to say, ‘You think that that’s reasonable?’ or ‘Do you think that that’s fair or just’?”
“And the source which is the Bible is also something which is constant,” she added. “Constant prayer. I believe that God will send answers in different ways, different forms. And if you stop and be silent and be still, you will be able to see the signs and move in that direction. So I think once you have good people in your corner and you have a good source to go back to where you are able to ground and balance your equilibrium, you should be fine.”
Molyneaux-Stewart’s entrepreneurial journey is a blueprint for navigating what is often the most difficult part of not just business, but life — and that is change. It is a trek that she has not just negotiated well, but embraced, drawing on previous experiences to prepare for completely new directions. From working in a family business, to greater independence and entrepreneurship, to marriage and a new career, her ongoing story demonstrates that with the right approach to life, change is always growth.