Here's a story of an iconic restaurant's recovery from Hurricane Irma, just one of many such stories that took place in the islands most decimated by the 2017 hurricanes.
Bob and Melinda Blanchard, owners of the 25-year-old landmark Blanchards in West End Village on Anguilla, shuttered their restaurant following the hurricane to begin repairs, which took more than a year. However, their first focus was to create a hurricane relief program for the people of Anguilla.
The program raised more than $750,000 for recovery efforts that included bringing in 300 generators, food and water provisions, school and medical supplies, tools, clothing, building materials and other necessities for the island.
The restaurant's roof was temporarily patched, and the space served as a relief center for victims, who often numbered more than 1,000 a day.
When the focus shifted to restaurant repairs, Blanchards hired its staff to help with the renovations, with the goal of keeping as much of its team employed as possible during the closure. Blanchards reopened last November with 32 of its returning employees and 10 new team members.
During the closure, Bob and Melinda Blanchard made use of the time to conceptualize a newer approach to dining in Anguilla. Many improvements included environmentally conscious upgrades to the restaurant experience such as eliminating white tablecloths, which required numerous gallons of the island's precious water to wash, and using tables made from reclaimed wood, which more appropriately reflect the natural surroundings.
Broken porcelain plates were replaced with handmade ceramic pieces; teal shutters replaced white shutters, which require a lot less cleaning; and the centerpiece of the revamped garden is a giant sculpture made of driftwood.
"We suffered quite a bit of damage from the hurricane, but we also saw it as an opportunity to make some fun changes," said Melinda Blanchard, who also serves as head chef. "There are so many exciting things happening in the food world, and we wanted to introduce a shot of new energy to the dining options on the island."
One change that came about, due to the changing culinary preferences of guests, was to create a more flexible dining experience in addition to the formal dinner venue. Blanchards' now includes a meandering tropical garden with a patio dining area under a canopy of twinkling lights.
The revitalized menu, a product of extensive recipe testing, features a collection of 25 smaller plates and specialty cocktails that are served in the redone bar and patio areas, while the dining room offers signature favorites such as citrus chicken, sesame-crusted mahi, grilled crayfish and cracked coconut.
Blanchards continues to feature its extensive wine list, along with craft beers, artisanal cocktails and a selection of more than 200 rums.
What also remains unchanged is the team of familiar faces who treat new and returning guests like old friends.