IT’S been exactly 20 years since Giselle Beaubrun opened Shore Things Café & Craft, a seaside café and craft shop in Lambeau, Tobago, overlooking the Atlantic.
The brightly-coloured gem of a spot is well known for fresh food, friendly service and great views in a setting adorned with locally-made handicraft.
With a breakfast and lunch menu serving simple items such as pancakes and eggs, bake and saltfish, an assortment of salads and dessert such as a sumptuous coconut cream pie, Shore Things has become a favourite for many people on the island.
Sitting back and reflecting on the anniversary of a dream, she has nurtured for many years, Beaubrun said she is amazed: “Amazed that we’ve actually lasted so long.
"That wasn’t the original plan. I started off doing this because I liked the location. I liked a place that I can come to and serve the food I like, listen to the music and the sounds and have the views that I enjoy and share that with people.
"I didn’t think we would be here ten years and now that we’ve hit 20 – amazing,” she said.
Originally from Trinidad, she has been lived in Tobago, and now with her son Robert, since 1988.
She said as with everything, there are always ups and downs, but she has no regrets.
“There are some years everything goes according to plan, smoothly, you love it, you think you want to be – this is it.
"And then there’s some years you just think, 'I can’t do this any more, I don’t have it left in me, I don’t have anything left to give.' It takes a lot out of you, you’re constantly on display, you constantly have to recreate, but yet you’re also having to do the same things over and over...
“I am very independent in my thinking, (but) not having somebody to bounce things off of, or to take a load off of you when the going gets tough has been a challenge. Sometimes I think the creative input of another would have been nice, and there were offers earlier on, but I was stubborn,” she said.
Beaubrun is trained in management, with several certificates from the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Institute as well as the Hocking Technical College in Ohio.
She said initially there was a couple who prepared all the meals, but then two years after she opened Shore Things, they migrated. When they told her of their plans to move away, she told them they had to train someone, and then she thought, what if the trained person decides to quit? She would then be stuck again.
“I said, 'Look, you better train me.' So for three months I went to her and she trained me. I had to learn to do everything, which I am very, very grateful for,” she said.
As chief cook, bottle-washer, cleaner and garbage "take-outer," she said she has sacrificed a lot of her social life to get her dream up and running.
The success of the business rests on her shoulders in another way, too.
“As much as I would love to say that people come for the food and the ambience, they also come for the personality, so I have to be here. My staff are great and the days that I cannot be here, they handle it – but I know that there are times that it's really important to mind your own business,” she said.
She takes pride in the ingredients she uses to create her menu. The business uses all-local, fresh produce, “no powdered stuff, no MSG: as fresh and as wholesome as you can get.”
She is also proud of the personal relationships she has built with the fishermen and market vendors on her regular trips to the Lambeau fishing depot and the Scarborough market.
Questioned about the effects of covid19 on her business, she exclaimed, “Bent like a coconut tree!
“There were times when we didn’t know what we would have had, so when we were able to do takeouts, we did that. We’ve limited our hours. We used to work six days per week, now we’re doing five: Tuesdays to Saturday.
“It is also important, covid19 has taught us that its not always about business, you have to take time to take care of yourself, emotionally, physically.”
She said before covid19, foreigners ordered a lot of crepes, but now as the catering has shifted to a more local market, the café has had to add more local lunches.
“A lot of people use to come and ask for local lunches – 'Where is the rice?' – so I have learnt, and that is one of the more popular meals for the locals. With the local market it is provision, rice and whatever peas we have with grilled fish, and we do soup every Saturday.
“We have our menu online, so people call, order and they pick up,” she said, but admitted delivery remains a challenge.
Having the right personnel has been key, she said, and she is very careful in interviewing and selecting her staff.
“Finding people who are committed to a certain level of doing things – not only the right way, but consistency. You cannot be consistent only when I am in the kitchen, or only when I am out front, so you have to be really on the ball with certain things.
"People come here for their enjoyment, so you make their time here – you pamper them, you make them feel that you want them to be here, you express an interest in them. It's not about you, it's not about me – it's about them.”
To add to her business, she hosts a regular craft market.
“We have a craft market the first Saturday of each month and I think that’s important, because it brings in artisans that we wouldn’t have normally had. We don’t so much carry the craft that we use to have, but it allows the craft to come to us and people to still have access to it.”
As for the future, she said as long as she can keep maintaining her standards, she'll stay in business.
“The problem is really the legs, the knees, the feet. Being on your feet as much as I am and having to be in this business takes a toll. So, I’m not sure, as long as I can keep doing it – because I enjoy people.”
For anyone sitting in their office thinking about taking the leap to fulfilling their dreams, she said a contingency plan is a must.
“Stick with your product, know your product, know your clientele. If you have a good product and you test it and it's going well, people give you feedback on it, take constructive criticism, apply it, and do what you do well –but don’t try to do everything. Focus on what you want to do and be prepared to do the hard work.”