By Horace Mills, BVI News Online Journalist
When she left secondary school at age 17, Evelyn Wong-Dawson landed her first job, which was to clean a night club at Penguin International Hotel in Guyana.
Now, decades later, she stands tall among business gurus who have toiled long and hard for every bit of success.
Wong-Dawson beamed with pride on the weekend when, for the first time, the doors to her D’Coal Pot Restaurant were swung open on the Carrot Bay waterfront, British Virgin Islands (BVI).
Carrot Bay is the brand new home of the four-year-old restaurant, which previously operated at a rented building elsewhere on island.
Wong-Dawson is no longer required to pay rent; she owns the new location where she now serves some of the most scrumptious dishes to both residents and tourists.
“I love to cook,” she told BVI News Online. “Without a doubt, cooking is my first love.”
Wong-Dawson further stated that, in fine Guyanese tradition, she started to cook up a storm at a very young age – age seven, to be exact.
Over the years, she has had stints in different careers throughout the hospitality industry. But she always finds her way back to tantalizing the taste-buds.
“People don’t return for bad food,” the restaurateur noted. “You could give the best of service. But, if the food is crappy, the customers are not coming back.”
Wong-Dawson added that she also believes in serving value for money. “I believe in giving people a fair amount of food for their money; everybody works hard for the money they earn,” she said.
Love at first sight
Wong-Dawson, no doubt, knows the kitchen well.
But the kitchen perhaps was the last place on her mind when she first set foot on BVI soil 21 years ago. She had come to spend time with a local soother by the name of Delroy Dawson.
“He saw my picture in a friend’s album and told my friend, ‘I wanna marry this woman [in the picture]’. About two years later, I met him when he came to Guyana. Then, I came up here [in the BVI] about four months later. I went back home to Guyana and, six months later, he proposed to me.”
After the wedding, Wong-Dawson relocated to the BVI. “I didn’t have any relative here. But I had three wonderful in-laws who made the transition [from Guyana to the BVI] easy,” she told BVI News Online.
A bit later, like a river finds the sea, Wong-Dawson found her way back into the hospitality industry.
She spent about two years working with her mother-in-law, Iona Dawson, who then owned the Palm’s Delight restaurant at Carrot Bay, Tortola. “That’s where I learned to cook the local dishes; my mother-in-law is a great teacher,” Wong-Dawson said.
She subsequently worked at different restaurants – the last being one operated by Bob and Violet ‘Letty’ Hodge.
When the Hodges pulled down their shutters permanently, Wong-Dawson bought some of the equipment. “That was the beginning of what I wanted for myself – a restaurant,” she told BVI News Online.
D’Coal Pot Restaurant, at that juncture, was born.
The name was chosen for different reasons, including the fact that Wong-Dawson’s favourite restaurant back home in Guyana had the same name. “I wanted a name for the business that was authentic Caribbean; something that would resonate with where I come from and where I am,” the entrepreneur said.
Wong-Dawson got a grand opportunity to physically start her restaurant when she rented a building at Apple Bay on the western end of Tortola.
She stayed there for four years. “The building later went up for sale; there were a lot of issues in looking at it on a long-term basis,” Wong-Dawson told BVI News Online in explaining why she did not buy the building.
Coincidentally, her mother-in-law, Iona, decided to retire from Palm’s Delight restaurant that she operated in Carrot Bay for decades.
Her retirement paved the way for Wong-Dawson to come full circle, when she acquired her mother-in-law’s building, where she first worked when she arrived in the BVI from Guyana.
That old building, however, was demolished. Its replacement is a brand new structure that houses D’Coal Pot Restaurant.
Wong-Dawson, who now has nearly 10 employees on payroll, stated that she also gets assistance from her husband Delroy and son Evroy.
She remains heaving involved in the daily running of the restaurant. “When you open up a restaurant, you’ve got to be there. You have to eat everything; you have to taste everything. And, if it doesn’t taste right, you have to say something,” Wong-Dawson said.
She further told BVI News Online that her career in the culinary arts is built on a wealth of experience – experience she does not store selfishly.
“If I have all of this knowledge and I keep it to myself, it is not worth anything,” Wong-Dawson declared.
“It feels really great to pass knowledge on to the young people.”
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