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Kapok celebrates 40 years in hotel business

BY ANGELA PIDDUCK Sunday, May 16 2010

In 1964, the late Godfrey Chan, and his wife Ena opened the modest Kapok Diner and Lounge on the ground floor of their Cotton Hill home. At first the couple served hot dogs and hamburgers but this was unprofitable, so they decided to offer Ena’s home cooked Chinese food. The Kapok Restaurant became very popular and a landmark for family dining.

Last Tuesday night the Kapok Family celebrated the 40th anniversary as a 100 percent “Trini owned and Trini grown” hotel, at a cocktail reception. The dress code was “A Touch of Red”, the colour which represents good luck, happiness and joy in the Chinese culture.

“Standing tall” at 16-18 Cotton Hill, St Clair, opposite to the Ministry of Agriculture, the new Kapok Hotel, now efficiently managed by daughters Diana and Jane Chan, remains steadfast in the delivery of quality service to local and international guests.

It was in 1970 that matriarch Ena and her late husband’s entrepreneurial spirit led to the building of 35 rooms, and the hotel’s opening in the year of the Black Power uprising. This was followed by another 36 rooms in 1972, with a pool and an open terrace restaurant on the top floor. Kapok has transformed over the years to a 94 room hotel offering full guest amenities, five conference rooms, total relocation and redesign of the lobby and reception area, and two full service restaurants – Tiki Village on the top floor, and Bois Cano Bistro and Bar, an open air garden style restaurant, which was the venue for last Tuesday’s reception.

In 1990, said youngest daughter Jane, who proudly welcomed guests on behalf of her family, “when we celebrated our 20th year my father began marking the occasion of our launch with a formal reception at the hotel. My sister Diana and I have maintained the tradition of celebrating every five years since then, so hopefully when we invite you to our 45th anniversary celebration, we will all be in good health and spirits.” When Godfrey Chan died in 1994, says Diana, the second daughter: “We were faced with the decision – what should we do as the founder of the business was gone and we were left without a captain. Unfortunately (or fortunately) my parents had three daughters, each of whom had distinctly different strengths – my older sister Margarita (now deceased) was the creative one, my younger sister Jane was the IT brain…as for me…well I think my reputation precedes me. But each of us brought different strengths to the business and somehow they did not conflict – most of the time.”

Propelled by the desire to continue to build on the solid foundation started by their parents, these young women made the bold decision in 1997 to tear down the original Kapok Restaurant to make way for the expansion of the hotel with an additional 24 rooms, by building up and joining to the existing building and with a total remake of public spaces. In a record eight months the rooms were completed and occupied for Carnival 1998. The Chan sisters had moved far forward from the early years of their parents’ Kapok, which had a separate division providing catering and housekeeping services to several Amoco offshore rigs as well as the Staff Complex in Mayaro, and also to Bristow Helicopters, which ended in 1980 when Kapok’s full attention turned to hotel operations.

This journey of 40 years was supported by committed staff – some whom were recognised on Tuesday night for having given over yeoman service through the years – Nel Birbal (35 years), Lesina Mohammed (32), Alex Bramble (21), Betty Ann Betrand (25), Cherrylyn Felician (27), Leba Benjamin (28), Jillian Maslair (29) and Auldric Walters (25).

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