Chat with Local “Ms Congeniality” and Restaurant Owner of St. Croix, USVI during Covid-19.

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Elena Lee-Hensley.

If you know Elena of Christiansted’s fun hangout, New Deep End, you know that calling her Ms Congeniality (as she was dubbed in high school) is not really far-fetched.

She runs one of the most socially interactive spots on the island where every night is potentially a theme night for the entire family, from crab races to dress-up parties to ‘Disco Bingo’ on Thursday nights for which reservations need to be made weeks in advance. And not to forget the Sunday Fundays and sometimes even Monday Fundays when beach goers and beach-bar bums dance from noon to close.

Steven Katz performs at New Deep End almost every Sunday brunch.
Adrian Rogers – Performs at New Deep End almost every Monday Night

Of course, Covid-19’s global reset, and its lockdown effects, also reached the sandy shores of St. Croix where Elena excites the socialites.

Can you imagine being on a Caribbean island, confined to your house? Must be tough not being able to move freely, knowing the ocean, the palm trees, the sunsets are just outside your door… let alone enjoying a cocktail or lovely dinner at your favorite local beach hangout. 

But don’t despair too much, Caribbean islanders have known tough times for hundreds of years. Alexander Hamilton, a former resident of this island, wrote how devastated – post-hurricane – this island was 250-odd years ago. The islanders have become very resilient and accustomed to hurricanes and tropical storms, to these uninvited visitors to their shores. Somehow they always manage to receive tourists and travelers from far and wide to join them on their beautiful islands though. Just give them a little time to clean up, get some fresh air and brush off the cobwebs – no problem.

Elena, too, stepped up like any vigilant denizen when the last hurricane hit St. Croix, and helped supply food and rescue packages to sister islands St. Thomas and St. John. That was, until St. Croix was hit a second time and then needed help from anywhere they could get it.

Back to today, here’s some good news – some beaches in the Caribbean have now been re-opened. But like anywhere else in the world right now, life is not what it is supposed to be in the mega land of sun and sand. Businesses forced to close, or in the case of restaurants like New Deep End – just serving takeouts – are at the forefront of the worst hit in this part of the world too. What’s more, many islands are still struggling to find their feet after a particularly bad hurricane season in 2017.

Almost every night is a theme night

I asked Elena, whose popular bar and grille, located at the Tamarind Resort in the US Virgin Islands, to give us some insights into the “through thick and thin” of an island restaurateur’s life.

What is it like to run a business on a Caribbean island?

Running a business in the Caribbean is always challenging. In the restaurant business, consistency in product delivery is one of our biggest challenges. Our food and beverage distributors ship in all of their inventory from the States. Many times it is not always the same brands or they weren’t able to get the product on the boat in time.

In the Virgin Islands, since the last two cat 5 hurricanes hit us in September 2017 (within a week of each other), our housing situation has caused a tremendous toll on staffing. 

Following Hurricane Maria our hotels that were still standing filled up with Rescue Relief workers. There were not enough rooms to support all those, including the linesmen and additional FEMA workers, so they turned to private homes. Those who owned houses that were in good shape were able to rent them at a higher price than they had been charging locals. Rents went from $1,200 a month to $12,000 a month, forcing a lot of the restaurant industry to leave island. 

We are still trying to recover from loss of staffing as a result of this.

How are you coping during the Covid 19 crisis?

Deep End Bar & Grille’s struggle with staffing increased when we finally began to see a “tourist season” around Christmas. We worked the few staff members we had with a lot of overtime until we came to a screeching halt with the Coronavirus. Many restaurants closed down while others have been struggling to stay open with the “take out only: park, pick up & go”.

I have changed my hours every week, to balance paying staff to work when there is a demand for food. I have gone from 9am to 5pm the first week 7 days a week to Mon- Fri. 3-8pm. I am still not making ends meet.

What is the first thing you will do to spark interest in your business when the crisis is over?

During this “down time” I am painting, cleaning and reorganizing the restaurant for reopening in the future. I also post regularly on facebook.com/ElenaLeeHensley, facebook.com/newdeepend and www.newdeepend.com about what’s up and menu specials.

Elena has all kinds of food specials running at New Deep End. Wednesdays, for instance, are Buddy Burger Night. Buy one and get any second one 1/2 off. You can choose from the regular menu too, excluding the Caprese Burger. Regular menu begins at 3pm and the following specials begin at 4pm. But like she said she changes the times weekly, so rather check out her postings on her social media pages or website. Here are some of her current specials:

Smothered ‘n Covered Burger —–$16 (covered with sautéed onions and mushrooms, swiss cheese, may and BBQ sauce).

California BLT Burger ——$16 (topped with fresh avocado and mayo).

Snapper Sandwich Supreme ——$16 (fried with sautéed peppers and onions, Marinara sauce and melted mozzarella cheese).

Spicy Jerk Chicken Quesadilla ——$14 (with pineapple veggie chutney and mozzarella cheese).

Sides available: Tomato/cucumber salad, coleslaw, regular fries, wedge fries, sweet potato fries.

Cream of Broccoli Soup – Cup ——$6 or Bowl ——$8.

$8 Dessert: Mango Cream Pie or Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

What can you do to help a business like New Deep End? 

Support them by ordering takeout or by sharing the news of their great food with your friends, so they can also enjoy it’s many delectables. Or, dream ahead and buy a food voucher for when you do get back to St. Croix. Their menu is available on the website: www.newdeepend.com or call now: +1 (340) 718-7071 (No Voice Mail).

By Liz Piano. www.facebook.com/lizpiano


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