No one could really blame Don and Julie Lloyd if they had decided not reopen the Reef Grill restaurant and the Royal Palms bar after Hurricane Ivan.
Last Thursday, however, the popular restaurant and night spot did fact reopen, a testament to the commitment of many people, including co-owner Captain Charles Kirkconnell.
Besides extensive damage to the property’s buildings and bar caused by the storm itself, the management and owners had to recover from several manmade disasters as well.
Some people would have simply walked away discouraged – like several Grand Cayman restaurant owners after Hurricane Ivan – but not the Lloyds, who have been involved in the restaurant business here since 1982 in establishments like the Almond Tree and D.J.’s Café.
There was looting after the hurricane reported in many bars and restaurants on the island, but few establishments had to endure the kind of theft that occurred at the Reef Grill.
After serving its last meals on the Thursday evening before the storm, the restaurant closed for the storm. Sometime between Saturday night and Monday morning, thieves made away with over $25,000 worth of the restaurant’s belongings, none of which was insured.
Mr. Lloyd can rattle off a long list of stolen items: ‘They took three five-ton air conditioning compressors, two large screen televisions, two sound systems, all of our computers, silverware, glassware, plates, linens, pots, pans – pretty much everything,’ he says.
Rather than the typical opportunistic looting that took place in Cayman after the storm, the theft at the Reef Grill appeared to be more planned out. ‘They knew what they were doing,’ says Mr. Lloyd. ‘They had to have at least two people to lift the air conditioning compressors, and they even brought the right tools for cutting copper wire.’
Mr. Lloyd acknowledges that the thieves had to have a truck in which to load the stolen goods as well.
The Lloyds were off the island in upstate New York with their dogs during the storm, and it was up to head chef George Dahlstrom and another employee to survey the damage on Monday morning.
‘They were kind of in shock with what they found,’ says Mr. Lloyd. ‘There were people rummaging through the store room taking what they could find. People were emptying sandbags and using them as backpacks to put stuff in. Our employees said they couldn’t do anything about it because there were just too many people.’
One thing that the employees were able to save was a good portion of the restaurant’s wine stock. ‘They started hauling the wine up to George’s apartment on Monday. They probably saved $25,000 worth of wine,’ Mr. Lloyd says.
Theft wasn’t the only challenge the Lloyds would face in reopening the establishment. Back on the island 10 days after the storm, Don started the process of cleaning up the debris.
Mr. Lloyd arranged for a heavy equipment company to clear some of the damaged structures. He says that at some point an employee of that company took it upon himself to do some demolition, and levelled the wrong building.
‘I left one night and everything was fine, and the next morning I came back and saw that the building was gone. I could only shake my head. That building had all of our electrical and telephone connections, and they were still intact,’ he says.
Overcoming the loss of the building, which he estimates was worth about $30,000, Mr. Lloyd says that he was fortunate to find a builder willing to start reconstruction of the beach bar very early after the storm. ‘We had no insurance on the structure, so we didn’t have to wait for a settlement. We found a builder who was ready and willing to start, so we did.’
Unfortunately, Mr. Lloyd did so without approval from the Central Planning Authority, which has now stopped construction only days before completion. ‘We were putting 1,000 square feet less under roof on the same footing, so I thought it would be fine,’ he says.
Negotiations with Planning are under way, and Mr. Lloyd is confident the issue will be resolved, hopefully in time to complete the work before the scheduled New Year’s Eve event at Royal Palms. Regardless, Mr. Lloyd says that event will take place, even if the new two-storey structure on the beach is not used.
Patrons of the restaurant will notice several changes in the reopened Reef Grill.
‘We have a wider-ranging menu now,’ says Mr. Lloyd. ‘We’ll still have the dishes that we are known for, but we’ve added things like more pasta dishes and pizza to make the menu a bit more approachable.’
In post-Ivan Cayman, Mr. Lloyd says offering more affordable choices to customers ‘was the prudent thing to do,’ especially since he is somewhat concerned about his business prospects for the first year due to fewer tourists.
Still, he remains confident he will not only survive, but flourish in the future. ‘I think I’m a very fortunate individual,’ he said. ‘I don’t worry about things and I don’t dwell on the negative. We have a great location. If we can’t make it here, nobody’s going to make it.’
Do it better
Despite all of the obstacles along the way, Mr. Lloyd says he never had a doubt about reopening.
‘I see this as an opportunity to do better things,’ he says. ‘You just can’t sit around and do nothing. The world does not stop just because we had a storm.’
There was another very important factor in Mr. Lloyd’s resolve. ‘I got Status six months ago, and once I had a commitment from the country to me, I think I had a duty to rebuild,’ he says.
Mr. Lloyd also credits his business partner Captain Charles Kirkconnell, as well as his wife for helping the process along.
‘Captain Charles has been great through all of this,’ he says. ‘He looks at the new building and says that’s just what the island needs, someplace for the country’s tourists to go. He’s been nothing but supportive.’
As for his wife, Don says she’s the real story. ‘As I tell people, I’m the owner, but she’s the boss.’