Today was a big day for the tourism industry, 5 ships with over twelve thousand guests made a port call in Belize City. All that load ensured that there would be a constant stream of tourists in the downtown area. It’s a downtown that’s coming around after major investments in the Tourism Development Project. Sure, it’s not anywhere near a tourist haven, but one business on North Front Street is trying to change that grimey image of Belize City.
Photographer turned entrepreneur Jeremy Spooner is cashing in on the upgraded street and sidewalk, which came under the Fort Point Sustainable Tourism Project.
Today, Daniel Ortiz visited with him, where he explained his own project:
Daniel Ortiz Reporting
From afar, it could look like a sidewalk café in some breezy European capital, but it’s Belize City, the sidewalk and surrounding environs prettified by the Tourism Development project.
Photographer turned entrepreneur Jeremy Spooner had the idea to open a café as he saw the area being redeveloped:
Jeremy Spooner - Owner, Spoonaz Photo Café
Mr. Mike Singh had heard that I had planned to build a cafe, and he said, 'Great stuff, Jeremy. The Belize Tourism Board is introducing the sustainable project. It's the clean-up of the Fort George area, enhance it for tourism, and for the Belizeans also.' So, everything worked hand in hand. They extended the sidewalk in front of my property, and in front of Mr. Musa's property, and they encouraged outdoor cafe seating outside, and so I had the wonderful old colonial building, which Mike Holms restored the outside for me a few years. I saw a business opportunity, and I went for it. When I came back in 91 they started calling me 'Spoonaz', so I loved the Kriolization of my name to keep it as 'Spoonaz'.
And he did it in his own anglophile style. Spooner - the son of Europeans made Belize their home, pays homage to his roots, with the strong influence of colonial architecture, and a defiant Union Jack hoisted above:
"I knew that you were going to ask me about the Union Jack. Somebody next door said, 'Spoonaz, you're going to have to take down that flag.' And, I said, 'Well, alright, you're going to have to tell Mr. Musa that he has to divorce his wife because she is English. But anyway, I am English by my father. My father is an Englishman, and my mother is Polish. So, I will fly a Polish flag up there, eventually. And, if you notice, I have a lot of Belizean flags up there. So, I'm a Belizean Anglo-Polack. I didn't intend it to be - I know that everybody says that it has a European looking, but you know what? That's what cafes look like. I guess influence from my father - he was an architect here in Belize for many years. I've travelled. I've lived in England, in the States, and of course, I've lived here most of my life, right here in Belize. It just came out of my head. What was so funny was that the tour bus passed by here, and they said, 'Look, we have a Star Bucks in Belize, but I am not a Star Bucks. I'm Jeremy Spoonaz. There is my place, my own invention, my own vision, and the tourist have been telling me that Star Bucks doesn't look like this."
And while the aesthetic and the culture of the place is one thing, inside all that falls away, and it’s about ambience and of course, coffee.
"We have a lot of coffee. A lot of our drinks are coffee. We have smoothies, fruit juices. We have a lot of pastries which we farm out. It's like a cottage industry. We bake very few things here, like 'Johnny Cakes', muffins, or banana bread, but we farm out our work to a lot of bakers in Belize City. We know that Belize people like their meat pies and their 'Johnny Cakes'. So we have that, and we have sandwiches with cold pork, with chicken, whole wheat, white bread. We notice that the tourists are demanding a lot more vegetarian types of food. They want salads; they want veggie sandwiches. We have crossaints, made by a local baker, Mr. Bradley."
While his menu is what causes you to visit for the first time, it’s the environment he provides which is causing his customer base to grow.
"I was sitting here, and I was looking at all these tourists walking by, nowhere to go. They went to the Swing Bridge; they'd turn back. They would go over the bridge, and then turn back. So I thought, well, I have a great location here. I have the river in the back. I have the widest street in the front."
Merilyn Young - Manager, Spoonaz Photo Café
"They do complain that whenever they come out of the tourist village, they are 'bombarded' - that is the word that they use - by people pushing them for tours, or for drugs and other things. It's just amazing the comments and complaints that you hear from the tourists about people on the street. So, I think that even though everybody needs to make a living - and I respect that - do it properly.”
"There is a lot of tourist that pass by here, like I've said earlier on, that they have nothing to do, nothing to entertain them. They get harassed a lot too, and the gauntlet that they have to walk from the Tourism Village to here, they tell me these things. They say that they find sanctuary in here, because they are protected. Nobody is bothering them, and I wanted to offer them that because I know how it feels to be a tourist in a stranger. I've got a great manager Ms. Merilyn Young. She trained the staff. They are all students. They all go to the 6th form, or to the University of the Belize, and what they do is that they fit their schedules. We have 8 people working for us, 18 to 20 years-old, and it's a perfect job for them. They can make some money on the side, and they can also go to school at the same time."
And while it may seem a little pricey to become a regular customer at Spoonaz, if you have a taste for something unique, they try to mix it up with dishes and specials that you won’t normally see around.
"We try to do a special every day for lunch. I'm the cook. Today, I'm doing 'black dinner' - my version of 'black dinner'. I make chili, a Belizean Stout Ale, and a lot of different foods. I have not rice and beans as yet, but eventually, I will build a fire harth at the back here, and do fire harth rice and beans, stew chicken, and stew pork."
Spooner told us that since his soft opening, word of mouth has kept visitors coming. With that, he is encouraged about the actual opening which will be later this year.