What does it take to open a restaurant? Better yet, what does it take to open a restaurant as a Canadian in Bahamas?
Meet Chef Tim Tibbitts.
Residing on Grand Bahama Island, Tim is a Canadian entrepreneur who has harnessed his George Brown Culinary School training to create a new level of culinary expertise for the Bahamas. Combining Asian, European, Canadian and Caribbean influences with fresh, sea-to-table fare, . Chef Tim is committed to creating
a unforgettable gastronomic journey for each diner – a culinary dedication that has earned the restaurant a #9 spot on Caribbean Journal’s “Top 50 Caribbean Restaurants” in 2014, well as countless awards from Trip
Advisor, USA Today, Fodor’s and a AAA Four Diamond rating for the second year in a row.
Together with his co-founder, sommelier and wife, Rebecca Tibbitts, Chef Tim is dedicated to the development and sustainability of Grand Bahama Island and its residents, a decision reflected from the staffing of the restaurant, items on the menu and ongoing business endeavors.
For epicureans and travellers world wide, here are tips from Chef Tim himself on what it takes to start your own restaurant venture in the Caribbean.
- What inspired you to be a chef?
I’ve always been very creative and artistic. I was a musician first, but I also loved to eat. At a pretty early age I taught myself to cook, so I could make the food I wanted to eat. While I was working as a musician, I took jobs working in commercial kitchens to make some extra money. About 8 years ago, I made the decision to simply focus on food and be as good as I could be from that point forward. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you are focused on one thing.
- Did you always want to start your own restaurant?
It was always my wife and business partner, Rebecca’s dream to open her own place and I quickly realized when we moved to the Bahamas that it was also the best way to do the food I wanted to do. There’s a saying that “He who pays the piper calls the tune,” so it only made sense for us to be the ones to “pay the piper.”
- Why did you decide to open your own restaurant in Bahamas?
Both Rebecca and I had worked in the Greater Toronto Area for the bulk of our careers – with the feeling of being trapped in the big city environment. For us, living and working in Grand Bahamas Island had the best of both worlds: a great lifestyle and an untapped restaurant market desperate for something of quality. We live in a lovely home – steps from the beach and less than 3 minutes’ drive to the restaurant. We couldn’t do that in Toronto.
- How does the fine dining landscape compare to Canada?
Toronto has so many options and ethnic groups and so many choices in quality and price. Conversely, the Bahamas currently lacks a high-end food market. Not just on our island, but the whole country really. Thankfully that’s changing, and we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to help raise that bar, as one of the Top 10 restaurants for the whole Caribbean region. An amazing feat considering we only opened Flying Fish 3 years ago.
- What three qualities do you think are requirements for being an entrepreneur?
The biggest is Courage. You have to not be afraid to make some mistakes – it’s going to happen, just try to limit the scope of those mistakes. The next is Flexibility. If something isn’t working, be flexible enough to change it or tweak it to make it better. Be humble – not every idea out of your head is made of gold, be mature enough to understand that and flexible enough to change it. Obviously skill is high on the list but I think even more important is Passion. You may be good at something and have a great idea but you can’t carry out the idea alone. If you need staff, then you will need serious amounts of passion for what you are doing. Only the most passionate people can convey that passion into others and make them believe what you believe in. Steve Jobs was one of the greatest ever at that. We call it “drinking the Kool-Aid.” Once you’ve drank the Kool-Aid either as an employee or as a customer, we’ve done our job.
- What is your biggest challenge?
Living on an island is tough. If you are not seriously organized and have a great ability to pull off the logistics it takes, you will go down hard. Logistics is likely the most important part of our job right now – sourcing quality products on an island is very tough. I can’t go to the farmer’s market every day for the best, farmed produce because we don’t really have any farms. We live on a rock in the middle of the ocean and “rock fever” is real. Sometimes you just need to get away to get some sense of reality around you.
- What advice would you have for someone who wants to follow a similar route?
Plan, plan, plan, plan and then plan some more. Never try to go into something on a whim. You will fail. Be as prepared as you possibly can be so when difficulties do arise, you are ready to tackle them. Always have a back-up plan. Someone came into the restaurant one night, he was a very successful businessman and he asked if we were the owners. He said “Welcome to courage, welcome to entrepreneurship; when you are willing to do what 95% of the world is not willing to do, you can live like only 5% of the world will be able to live.” It stuck with us.
- Words you live by?
One of my first chefs I worked for always instilled in me three things: Have respect for your ingredients, treat them the way they deserve because they gave their life so you can live; Have respect for those who came before you, there is a lot to be learned from other people’s journeys: even the dishwasher; And most importantly, have respect for people’s time – you can refund a customer their money but you can never give them back the time they spent in your establishment if they have had a bad experience. That is the most important lesson I ever learned.