Entrepreneurs Go All-In on Mahogany Bay Village
With Belize tourism numbers going through the roof, one has to wonder how our crown jewel La Isla Bonita is keeping up. The Belize Tourism Board shows that overnight arrivals are up 44% in the past five years, with the vast majority heading straight for San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. But are there enough hotel rooms today on what was a sleepy fishing town just twenty years ago? Are our goods and services meeting the demand of an ever-discerning North American clientele?
Ambergris Caye was broadcast onto the world stage when it was voted #1 Island in the World on TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice® Awards in both 2013 and 2014 — the only island in the world to be chosen in TripAdvisor's top spot two years in a row! But anyone who has spent longer than 10 days on the island will tell you that it's definitely still a small town; residents recognize one another and wave while passing on golf carts, there are no stoplights, no addresses, no zip codes. In fact, the single post office collects your mail for you based on your name. Surely part of its charm is its quaintness.
Accordingly, when it comes to full-time life on the island there remain niches to fill, and opportunities for entrepreneurs and new businesses are EVERYWHERE. Before Mahogany Bay Village even had a name, the vision was born of fulfilling the island’s growing demand for upscale yet authentic accommodation, while raising the bar on lifestyle conveniences and retail choices for locals and visitors alike.
Here are just a few of the entrepreneurs who have uprooted their lives in North America and elsewhere, and to move to Belize and open a business at Mahogany Bay Village. We are so very proud to call each of these dynamic individuals part of our MBV family!
Blue Bonefish Fly Shop
Chris Raines is co-owner of Blue Bonefish Fly Shop at Mahogany Bay Village. Chris is originally from a tiny town in Michigan called Lake Odessa. He first came to Belize in 1992 to visit family friends with a banana farm, and to catch tarpon. He recalls the days of travelers using a grocery cart to transport luggage from the airstrip, and when the Boca del Rio Bridge wasn’t a bridge but just a rope and platform!
In 2015, Chris Raines returned to a very different island, one with paved roads, taxis, and travelers arriving by the hour. After seeing the changes, and statistics on record-breaking tourism to Ambergris Caye, Chris began to consider opening a fly fishing business to “live the dream,” as he calls it.
Chris has always been an angler, operating fly fishing outposts part of the year in Michigan and Alaska. To venture outside of the US to set up shop in a warm familiar spot, world-renowned for fly fishing seemed like a natural progression. Belize is an angler's paradise, home to over 200 miles of coastline flats teeming with bonefish, permit, tarpon, and even snook — that's right — grand slam move aside, in Belize it's all about the SUPER SLAM!
“Although it has grown, San Pedro still has that small town feel, and the tourism brings incredible opportunity for local business,” says Chris.
During Chris's 2015 trip to Ambergris Caye he came across an expansive new resort south of town called Mahogany Bay Village. He learned of the resort village’s timeline to soon open the largest hotel in the country, in a master-planned village complete with private vacation homes, enormous event space, and plenty of nice amenities. After meeting Beth Clifford, the visionary and CEO behind Mahogany Bay Village, it didn’t take much to be drawn into the new resort’s momentum and sign on to open a fishing tour business with brick and mortar fly shop in the village downtown. Within six months Blue Bonefish was up and running at Mahogany Bay, offering tours, fishing apparel, and gear to all visitors and island locals.
Chris has had an enterprising mindset since he was a child; he was in the quintessential lemonade business, shoveled snow from neighbor’s driveways for tips, and even picked up a paper route for a year. Although he’s an entrepreneur at heart, he went the traditional route with a management position for many years. Today, however, he says he hasn’t received a paycheck from anyone else for over ten years — and is proud of it!
We sat down with Chris Raines to find out the motivations that led him and his partner to opening up shop at Mahogany Bay Village.
Q. Why Belize?
A. Easy, no snow! But really — for fly fishing you need a population density of a particular amount. Realistic locations aren’t places that are overbuilt like Playa del Carmen. I like the small town feel of San Pedro, you know everybody. I grew up in a place that took four towns to make up one single high school! I love that. I’ve seen the island’s growth first-hand and the opportunity is here. That and there’s not too much fly fishing competition on Ambergris Caye.
Q. Why Mahogany Bay Village?
A. I met the team on the ground, I met Beth, I saw the footprint of the resort back when it was just a construction zone with a coffee shop (Rum+Bean). It was large enough to sustain the amount of business we want to do. We wanted to be able to be here first and ramp up along with Mahogany Bay. Once it’s open and running at full-speed — I mean, it’s going to be a gold mine here.
Q. Do you have a favorite book that has influenced you in business?
A. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. Why? Because there were no big words! Haha, joking aside, I believe the simple virtues and lessons that we were taught early in life are some of the most important and valuable ones.
The Blue Bonefish is open daily at Mahogany Bay Village for all types of fishing on Ambergris Caye. Blue Bonefish is a Belizean company, with Belizean business parter as well as a fully Belizean staff. In fact, many of the dozen fly fishing guides that work with Blue Bonefish are from families dating back generations from San Pedro Town! An additional six local fishermen have relationships with Blue Bonefish to bring guests reef fishing or for other offshore excursions. For more information, please visit their Facebook business page Blue Bonefish.
The first week of 2017, Josh and Melanie Parker and their two young boys left their home and business in Lubbock, Texas to relocate to Mahogany Bay Village in Belize and make chocolate. Belize AND chocolate? Talk about living the dream!
Over the years, Josh Parker dabbled in everything from airplane mechanics to real estate to restaurant work. Looking back, though he has explored different industries, he has always fallen back on his love of food. In fact, on his very first date with Melanie they spent it in the kitchen together, cooking Coquilles St. Jacques (scallops au gratin.) Clearly the dish proved a success, as he and Melanie have now been married for seven years!
After over a decade working his way through kitchens, cafés, coffee shops, and bakeries across the US, Josh Parker decided to bring his game to the next level and enrolled at the prestigious French culinary institute, Le Cordon Bleu. And that was that! Josh found his talent and his passion in baking. Josh graduated with honors from Le Cordon Bleu in 2009.
Since then, Josh has found the most joy in candy-making, eventually creating a niche in organic craft chocolate market. For three years, Josh worked for a candy-maker in Idaho making 1200 pounds of toffee per day, before moving to Texas to start his own business in the specialty chocolate sphere. And the name of that business? — Mahogany Chocolate — a coincidence, really!
At Mahogany Chocolate, Josh created his own line of bean-to-bar chocolate. He still recalls his first sale at a local farmers market, a 72% dark chocolate bar made from Peruvian cacao. At that moment Josh became a bonafide entrepreneur, doing something he absolutely loved.
In 2013, Josh and Melanie attended a real estate investor trip to Ambergris Caye with The Real Estate Guys™ where they first learned of the development at Mahogany Bay Village. Three years later, through the same investor network, the opportunity came to team up with David Sewell and Trevor Miles (founders of Belize Cacao Consortium) to build a new and improved Mahogany Chocolate from the ground up at Mahogany Bay. Here’s how the decision was made to take the leap and go all in for Mahogany Bay Village:
Q. Why Belize?
A. Well I spent nine years of my childhood in Indonesia, so the idea of living overseas wasn’t so foreign to me. I am thankful for the perspective that living offshore gave me when I was growing up, and as a father I want my boys to have the same experience. My wife is a teacher, so we knew that home-schooling them would be an option. Chocolate is so great because it's a universal commodity that can bring us so many places. But to have the opportunity to produce chocolate at the source, working with local ingredients — not to mention some of the best cacao on the planet — and to make relationships with cacao farmers who have been in the business for generations — that’s really what we’re all about at Mahogany Chocolate.
Q. Why MBV?
A. I know I am a green entrepreneur, and being able to work alongside David, Trevor, and Beth — it's the chance of a lifetime. They're all about having a win-win for everybody. And the opportunity to build the business within a brand new resort, the chance to be here in front of a revolving door of Hilton guests, that's huge! I wouldn’t do this outside of Mahogany Bay.
Q. Do you have a favorite business book?
A. Sounds cliché, but Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. I had always thought of starting a business but didn’t really know how. The book gave me the entrepreneurial mindset and the direction to move forward.
Mahogany Chocolate sources all of their cacao from organic farms in the famed Toledo District in southern Belize, known worldwide for producing cacao with an exquisite flavor profile. At the farms, the cacao fruit are picked, then seeds are removed, fermented, and dried. The cacao beans are then shipped to the Mahogany Chocolate's industrial kitchen in Belize City where they are turned into what are known as cacao nibs. From Belize City, the nibs are sent to Mahogany Chocolate's retail shop at Mahogany Bay Village to be pregrinded, and processed in a melanger to turn the nibs into cocoa butter. From there the cocoa butter is further refined in a conche to bring out a better mouthfeel and remove acidity. Tempering will come next, which is a rather scientific process where the the different types of fatty acids in cocoa butter are stabilized so that the chocolate has a nice consistency, and will crack instead of crumble. At last the tempered cocoa butter is put into into molds that creates the delightful chocolates that visitors enjoy! Look for further information on the fascinating process of chocolate-making with Josh Parker and his team at Mahogany Chocolate in an upcoming blog.
Mahogany Chocolate is currently in its buildout phase at Mahogany Bay, and their grand opening is expected to be in March or April of 2017. Mahogany Chocolate will be hiring six to seven Belizean team members between San Pedro and Belize City, all of which Josh looks forward to personally training and mentoring to become an integral part of his remarkable bean-to-bar operation! Follow Mahogany Chocolate on their Facebook business page for all the latest updates, Mahogany Chocolate.
Please look for an upcoming Part II to this three-part series of Entrepreneurs Go All-In for Mahogany Bay Village. Part II will share the story of Science & Soul Wellness yoga studio and The Hive food shack, both opening at Mahogany Bay Village in March / April of 2017.
Do you have a business idea that could thrive within Belize's largest (60-acre) new resort village? Do you have a business, internationally or locally, that you have considered expanding or relocating? We are always looking for new entrepreneurs to join our family and would love to hear from you! We offer live / work space for sale or lease, as well as custom buildings. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a ring at +1.800.416.7339