Ms. Dawson is the chef and owner of D’Coal pot Restaurant in Apple Bay. The following are her words, condensed and edited by Claire Shefchik.
I have no formal training in the culinary arts. It was natural, growing up in an Indian family in Guyana, that you have to cook at a pretty early age. My mom was instrumen- tal in teaching me how to cook. When I was about 17 years old, I started working at a restaurant. I had lied about my age because in Guyana you couldn’t work [until age 18]. I was working in a nightclub as a waitress, just three nights a week on the weekend. There was a manager for an insurance company who went and reported me to the owner of the company. It was the top hotel in Guyana at that time. He called and asked, “How old are you?” I said I was 19.
He said to me, “I need you to lift your head up and look at me and tell me what your age is,” and I looked at him and I couldn’t say what my age was because then I wouldn’t have a job. He said, “You’re not 18.” I said, “No, I’m 17.” He said to come tomorrow morning at 6. And that was when my whole hospitality experience bloomed.
He took me and started training me to work throughout the industry. My first job was cleaning toilets. I said, “I know how to clean the toilet,” but I cleaned everything without a glove. He said to me, “When somebody asks you if you know how to do something, you tell them the truth.” That was the one thing I carried with me throughout my life.
When I came to the BVI, I started working with my mother-in-law, and that’s when I started learning to cook differently. When you come here, everybody does everything different. My mother-in-law taught me all the local dishes.
We moved here [to this location in Apple Bay] five weeks prior to Irma. It’s a really nice business and doing really well. I have never experienced a hurricane living in the BVI for 22 years, and like many other people I was not prepared.
When I sit and think back on what I first wanted here for a restaurant, I am so happy every day that I changed my mind. I was going to put a wooden building down because I love wood, and I would have come back to nothing. I always say to myself every time we are in the process of trying to fix everything now, even the painting on the wall wasn’t scratched. The bits that went were the wooden roof, the rails knocked down, windows and doors blown out,
furniture and equipment damaged. We had to get new equipment and we opened up back in November .
Two days after Irma, our district rep [Opposition Leader Andrew Fahie] needed to store and distribute that food aid that was coming through for the community; we opened our restaurant for that. We had meetings and volunteer services coming in. It was used as a clinic. If [the government] had to broadcast news, they would come down here. So during that time, while we were thinking about what we were going to do finding supplies and all that, we had to give back. Then everybody wanted to know when we were opening up back.
With some help from some very good friends — Convoy of Hope, Curt Richardson from Little Thatch — we got started. It’s important you secure your building: windows and doors; send a positive message to the people around you. You are going to be able to start somewhere. You’re going to get up and want to do it. After Irma, my spirits were pretty low. It was a lot to take on. We got open just after Thanksgiving last year and are thankful and grateful.
Hopefully by the end of this week, I’ll be back in my home. The plan is to get the upstairs lounge open. We were supposed to open upstairs October 1, but after Irma we had to rethink all our plans. The roof has to be back on, and as soon as the roof is back we are going to having a sunset launch upstairs.