Book review: Melanie and Robert Blanchard's 'A Trip to the Beach' recounts struggle to open Caribbean restaurant
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Thursday, May 11, 2017
'A Trip To The Beach,' by Melanie Blanchard and Robert Blanchard
I’ve never had a book whisk me away quite like this one. As I was reading, I could nearly feel the sand between my toes and taste the salty sea air. If you have a case of unrelenting wanderlust, like me, this book is a must read.
It begins with Melinda and Robert Blanchard arriving in Anguilla. The description of the island from the plane is enough to persuade readers to purchase tickets for a Caribbean vacation. As the couple strolled along the beautiful coastline, they came across a burger shack with three choices: hamburgers, lobsters and a beer or soda for a drink. This sparked the idea that gave way to their Caribbean culinary adventure. They sold their successful preserves company in Vermont and moved to paradise to open a restaurant of their own, Blanchard's.
Melinda and Robert battle back-and-forth between the Caribbean and the United States, moving all their belongings, fighting with customs, and negotiating local government agencies to get their material life in order off the mainland.
The Blanchards had heard of a location that might be the perfect setting for their new restaurant. Like most else on the tiny island, word of mouth and networking gets you everywhere. A friend they made on the island brought them to see a rundown beachfront villa. As they toured the property, dreams of hibiscus trees, the splash of the ocean waves and the intoxicating scent of honeysuckle sealed the deal. And so, they finally became paradise property owners. Then, the real fun of planning the menu began. They visited every restaurant and resort on the island, testing all types of cuisine until they finally decided what they would serve and the ambiance they would create.
Finally, it was their restaurant's opening night. The two owners stood in the middle of the beautiful setting they had created and prepared for the challenges that lay ahead. Staff members were ready and eager in their crisp white shirts and beaming smiles, the garden lights twinkled through the open windows and the evening was a-go. An hour later, the kitchen was utter chaos. They ran out of lobsters, dumplings, tuna, signature wines, and even with all this, they prevailed. Blanchard's was more successful than they had hoped.
However, they had their fair share of trials and tribulations. They found out that one of their staff members was dealing drugs from the restaurant's kitchen. Unfortunately, they had to progress as any restaurant owners would and essentially ostracize the employee.
Then, came the worst, Hurricane Luis, which moved through the Caribbean, destroying everything in its path. It wiped out the beach front of nearly every resort and restaurant on the island, including Blanchard's.
Mel and Rob found the strength and the finances to rebuild after Luis nearly flattened the property, and because of their persistence, the restaurant thrived. Not only had they built a restaurant and a staff, but a family. Each staff member helped rebuild the beautiful restaurant, reviving their culinary adventure.
As the restaurant reopened, along with numerous other locations along the coastline, Melinda, Robert and the staff had a toast "to dreamy Anguilla" and "to living on island time."
After reading this book, I emailed Melinda, sharing with her that I, too, had what I considered a pipe dream of moving to the Caribbean and living out my days on a beach. She wrote back, saying, "Follow your dreams, and you are always welcome at Blanchard'sm if I ever got the chance to visit."
The restaurant is still a staple in Anguilla today. If you read "A Trip To The Beach," I guarantee you'll feel inclined to begin planning your next vacation. Make sure to include Blanchard's on your must see list.
This book is available at Bud Werner Memorial Library and Off the Beaten Path.
Beryl Lenk is assistant manager at Off The Beaten Path.