Beer and wine at Willowbank
Willowbank was known as a Christian retreat centre for years; now the Sandys hotel is stepping slightly back from that legacy.
“We are rebranding the restaurant and reframing the hotel,” said the new executive chef, Ricai Williams. “The hotel is not 100 per cent religious any more, but the staff still have religious beliefs and principles.”
According to Willowbank’s website, their mission statement is still: “To steward, fund and engage in activities using the resources of the Trust to any part of the world of any kind which promote and extend the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
Biblical phrases like ‘loaves and fishes’ are still painted over the restaurant’s doorway, but they now sell beer and wine.
“There is still no hard liquor or spirits, such as rum,” Mr Williams said. “Willowbank now wants to be a functional resort with no limitations. We want to attract more locals and more of everybody.”
The hotel has gone through management changes.
“It was previously managed by Nine Beaches, and then Cambridge Beaches,” Mr Williams said. “Now the owners have decided to self-manage it. Our acting general manager is Mark Hall, and we are in the process of looking for a new one.”
The hotel has a convention centre, two beaches, a tennis court, a swimming pool and 50 guest rooms. In November, the hotel was 50 to 60 per cent occupied.
“Because of our convention centre, we have many groups come here,” Mr Williams said. “I’ve got a conference this weekend with about a 100-plus people.”
They are also seeing large family groups and sports teams.
“People from The PGA Tour event stayed here,” he said. “We have had international football teams such as the St Vincent football team.”
The restaurant name has also gone through a mild change. It was previously known as Oceans Dining, but is now called The Ocean.
“I came up with the name,” Mr Williams said. “I thought it would be good because from our restaurant you see nothing but the ocean.”
The Ocean Restaurant has been revamped with fresh carpeting, furnishings and a new menu.
“It is mostly seafood,” Mr Williams said.
Food items include mussels, shrimp, fish and chips, fish chowder, ceviche and local favourite, conch fritters, among other things. There are also chicken and beef burgers and steaks.
“We are not a high-priced restaurant,” Mr Williams said. “We want to attract more locals to come here and eat comfort food in a more modernised way.”
Breakfast and lunch is available for hotel guests, and but the restaurant is open to the general public for dinner.
The restaurant hopes to be open for lunch to everyone during Restaurant Weeks, starting January 18.
On December 8 and 9, and 14 and 15, they will be hosting a Winter Wonderland vendor market, including a kiddie land with mascots.
The Christmas drive-through has the entire property at 126 Somerset Road decorated with lights. The cost is $5 per car.
Before coming to Willowbank Mr Williams was a sous chef at Huckleberry (Rosedon Hotel) and at Fourways Inn.
“I also lived in the United Kingdom and went to the University College Birmingham,” he said. “I graduated from there in 2016 and worked for the Hyatt Regency and Birmingham Marriott.”
Willowbank is his first post as executive chef. “This a lovely hotel and a lovely place to work,” Mr Williams said.