The first of many stories to come is the story of a recent graduate of the Hospitality and Tourism Management program at the University of Guelph and her path towards creating a restaurant with sustainability, both environmental and economic, at the forefront of her business plan.
By Brittany Morgan
It is apparent to me now that not all daydreaming in class is wasted time. It is the ideas of your professors that motivate you to compose these dreams, and they can’t blame you for getting a little caught off guard when you’re not paying attention. I was guilty of this in almost every class, only I was trying to incorporate two very important characteristics about myself; I didn’t want to work in an office and I didn’t want to work for anyone but myself. Not the easiest factors to work with coming straight out of university, but here I am one year later with my own restaurant on a small island off the Caribbean side of Panama.
Four days after final exams in 2010, I jumped on a plane to Bocas Del Toro where I had accepted a position as a hostel manager. After searching and applying to probably hundreds of jobs that were far beyond my reach, I found one that was willing to help me learn and still pay me, wow! Working there for nine months and getting hands on experience with everything from accounting to housekeeping, I moved off the property and started to look for opportunity. I didn’t go very far, but stayed on the next island over. My decision to open my business here was mainly because I love this place, but also the fact that rent was cheap, my start up costs would be minimal and I could afford at, 22 years old, to open my own restaurant without biting off more than I could chew.
Giving myself time to get to know the islands, the people and the language before developing my business plan was one of the most important keys to my success. The intent of opening a surf camp slowly turned into a sushi bar with the demand on the island for fresh seafood. It was at this point where I discovered that catering to the people’s demands was more important then my own. Raw Sushi + Martini Bar has now been open for a month and a half and I am learning sustainable mechanisms on a daily basis.
Living in a less developed country, my staff and I are constantly trying to incorporate environmental sustainability. I have found that my solution is based on the local community. As a small business, fortunately I have been able to communicate with almost all of the clientele on a daily basis and this interaction makes both their and my experience better. The relationships that you create and maintain with the local farmers, and the things that you can get from your neighbors saves gas on transport, the amount of spoiled goods and of course develops the local economy. Use as many resources as you can around you including what you can make and grow on your own. I have my herb garden growing right on my front patio where my customers can smell and recognize the quality. I also have the privilege of locals like the 10-year-old indigenous boy who comes in every other day just to sell me fresh coconut bread, sweet peppers or limes. This is comparative to the local farms we have in Guelph and making those relationships with the people who are also going to support and promote your product.
One of my biggest challenges thus far has been the accountability for all of my inventory and of course living in a relatively corrupt society. Here in Panama, you don’t expect your staff to show up everyday, because it just won’t happen. Nor do you expect your entire food order to show up when your inventory has to travel 10 hours. The outcome of these dilemmas resulted in my newfound priority for contingency plans! Of course these plans did not come until after the problems had arisen, but now I am more conscious of the situations to come.
When looking for sustainable solutions, be creative with your available resources. Take what is readily available to you and make use of it. Support your community and they will support you. Check out my Facebook page for pictures – Raw Sushi + Martini Bar and get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.