After working at the Health Services Authority for 28 years, and retiring at age 60, Henry Harris has taken up a new career.
A sign in the shape of a big tree by the roadside says it all: “Welcome to Big Tree BBQ – serving ribs, chicken, steaks and local turtle and conch stew.”
“I am just trying to make a living and at the same time help the tourism industry. But the system is making it very hard for us Caymanians to survive,” said Mr. Harris, sitting under the aforementioned big tree in his front yard on Austin Connolly Drive in Gun Bay, East End.
He is embracing his new vocation with enthusiasm, but like many other retired Caymanians in his age bracket, he is still in the workforce for a simple reason: Cayman’s high cost of living.
Waiting with his son Arvid for the next customer to pull up to his barbecue stand, Mr. Harris shared his story of how the business got started.
“I was a dive master when I was younger – 19 years of age. After that, I joined the Health Services as a security officer for 28 years,” he said. “When I was nearing 60, I was told they had no record or papers of me working there – even though I collected a check every month.
“I was forced to retire in good health. I had to quickly find out how I would support my family.”
His answer came at a family Christmas dinner while pursuing his passion for cooking under the big tree in his front yard.
“Can we get some dinner?” a passing driver asked, pulling up at the family gathering. “Sure,” Mr. Harris replied. Not long after, another car pulled up, and another, until his family started to get upset because all the food was being given away.
That was when Mr. Harris realized that a food business in his front yard might work. Since then, he said, people have been calling from as far away as California, New York and Boston to find and eat at his spot. “They enjoy that I am a Caymanian, [and] they can hear about the island, its people and the best places to go,” he said.
At the outset, while he waited for his business license, Mr. Harris made preparations to start selling his barbecue fare on Sundays.
Mr. Harris said he has taken food-handling courses, prepares the food properly, keeps his place clean and dresses appropriately. He wonders about the hold-up from government regarding his license, which still has not been approved. “They want me to have a covering over the business, but that would take away from the charm of dining outdoors under a tree,” he said.
He countered that tourists and locals alike love the outdoors.
“What better way to enjoy barbecue than dining outside?” he asked.
The travel website TripAdvisor currently has the little pit stop ranked No. 2 out of all 292 restaurants in the Cayman Islands reviewed on the site.
“Happy surprise”; “Simply amazing”; “Worth the drive, every penny”; and “Big Tree is Big Time” are some of the posted comments.
One family which made a point to go based on the excellent reviews wrote:
“It was amazing. I know it was good when my kids asked me the next day if we could go back. Family owned and operated in their front yard, the ribs are insane, the plantains were amazing. The owner gave us a little history lesson of the area. If you are a foodie, this is the place for you.”
Mr. Harris hopes the enterprise will succeed over the long term, and that his business license will soon be approved.
In the meantime, the positive reviews keep rolling in, one satisfied customer at a time.
Retiree Henry Harris was inspired to open Big Tree BBQ to earn some extra income. It’s been a major hit with tourists and locals alike, garnering rave reviews on travel website TripAdvisor.