Risk of Covid vaccine is worth the reward, says hotel worker
Shawn Lekki nabbed his dream job in hospitality just as the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Like businesses everywhere, the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club was shuttered indefinitely by Covid-19.
He was weeks into his role as interim food & beverage director of the Pitts Bay Road property. Foremost in mind last March were his staff who were, understandably, concerned about their future.
“[Shelter-in-Place] gave myself an opportunity to come up with a strategy as to how we were going to come back, the new norm for us in Covid – what type of procedures and practices we needed to follow, what guidelines,” Mr Lekki said.
“It was a key instrumental piece to work with government and it started with Phase 2 and allowing restaurants to come back. Because that period of being closed down gave us a chance to look at what we could do to exercise a great product coming out of Covid.”
Among the many initiatives: temperatures taken at the hotel entrance; paperless menus and contact tracing sheets; dining tables placed six feet apart.
Mr Lekki believes that together, they helped guests and staff feel the hotel was a safe environment.
“I think we had to instil confidence in them,” he said. “People were nervous, concerned not only for their physical wellbeing but also for their financial health, because there was no money coming in. We had to come up with a strategy that made people feel safe – our colleagues and our guests that were coming to our property.”
Me Lekki’s first experience in the industry came at 16 when he got a job with the former Bermudiana Hotel, setting up tables and chairs for the barbecues they held twice a week.
“It was quite lucrative – and that was my main driver at that time, being able to make some cash,” he said. “It helped me buy my first bike, at 16.”
He joined the Hamilton Princess when the Bermudiana closed. His work there helped pay his way through college where he initially focused on applied physics.
“Then I realised I had no desire to pursue a career in engineering and I returned to hospitality,” said Mr Lekki, who worked as a cashier, bar porter and server.
“I really enjoyed it; meeting people, it never felt like a day of work.”
In various bars on Front Street, he gained “a cult following” because of his skill at blowing fire, tossing bottles and ice, while making drinks.
“Anything I touched my hands on back then, I gave it some sort of animation,” Mr Lekki said.
Eventually he decided he “had to grow up” and grabbed an opportunity to join the Fairmont Southampton 20 years ago.
“I was able to really hone my hospitality skills. I was able to work in different facets of food and beverage – from fine dining to relaxed dining to banquets; I was in charge of banquets at one point, I was the maître d' catering up to 1,000, 1,500 people at one time. It was a great learning playground.”
He stayed there for about ten years and then “was very lucky” – offered the chance to open 1609, then a new dining experience at the Hamilton Princess.
“I was excited about that because over the last 10, 15 years we hadn’t seen a completely new restaurant to Bermuda,” Mr Lekki said.
“We’ve renovated a few spaces and reclaimed [spots] but 1609 was a totally new entity and I was happy to be a part of the leading team to open that up.”
Through his success working in various parts of the hotel he was promoted to assistant food & beverage director five years ago. His hope is that Bermuda gets behind the government’s plan to get businesses running full-speed before the summer season.
“I believe people are ready to get back to some sense of normality but there’s no getting back to normality without herd immunity; getting as much people immunised as possible,” he said.
“I’m by no means a doctor or psychiatrist and I do understand people’s reticence to get the vaccine. I’ve taken a long look at the evidence myself, considered that people have already had it and weighed the risk and it’s definitely worth the reward. I think, unless more people get vaccinated we’re not going to be able to move forward. It’s sad to see that we’re losing life, that we have more cases in the hospital. [While the vaccine is] not the be all and end all, it’s a key component.”
Mr Lekki is grateful that his colleagues have been supportive of the many efforts the Hamilton Princess has put in place.
“From Phase 2 in 2020 we were able to set a lot of guidelines and processes and procedures in place that made not only our guests feel safe but our staff feel safe. We were steadfast in holding everybody accountable – making everybody wear their mask, making sure they washed their hands every half-hour.
“We came out the gates with processes and procedures and we never wavered.”