Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, St. ThomasIt's a fixture on St. Thomas, a small, family-owned resort that's celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and plans to be around for many more.

The 75-room beachfront Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, on the island's southeast coast, has been a Doumeng family operation since 1974, when Dick and Joyce Doumeng assumed part ownership in what was then a 37-room hotel.

"There were three other partners at the time. They brought my dad in, gave him 25% of the operation and told him to save the place," said son Richard Doumeng, now at the helm as managing director. Also on the management team are his wife, Katarina; brother Paul and his wife, Colleen; sister Laura Doumeng; and cousin Scott Nieboer and his wife, Iselah.

The hotel, which originally opened in 1966 as Shell Beach, had seven rooms.

The Doumengs moved in permanently in 1984 as part owners and resident managers, and "by then there were 37 rooms: One building had 12 rooms, another had 20 and there were five studio apartments in the middle," Doumeng said.

"From day one, my dad treated people like he wanted to be treated," he said. "He didn't charge for breakfast or for nonmotorized water sports, and he gave a free, all-day catamaran sail to St. John for every seven-night booking."

The studio rooms were demolished in 1984; 45 rooms with kitchens were added to bring the room count in 1985 to the present-day 75.

The original staff numbered 12; the current year-round employee count is 105, with extras put on in peak season.

Leslie Phipps, senior landscaper, has planted every coconut tree on the property. Silvia Greene, senior housekeeper, has been at Bolongo since day one, as has Viola Albert, now restaurant supervisor.

Richard Doumeng"Back in the day Bolongo had a small restaurant that served continental breakfast and dinner six nights a week," Doumeng said. "We had lasagna night on Mondays. I was bartender, cook and waiter, and we served 60 to 70 dinners a night."

An on-property convenience store sold frozen burgers and charcoal for beach cookouts; the weekly snorkel booze hunt began in June 1974.

"We've buried more than 41,600 bottles of rum in our bay, celebrated 2,200 weddings on our beach and mingled with guests at 2,080 manager cocktail parties since then," he said.

The name Bolongo derives from the section of St. Thomas where the hotel is located.

"It's an African word for 'river,' and it's appropriate: When it rains in St. Thomas, fresh water runs down the mountain," Doumeng said.

In 1988, the elder Doumeng and his partners took over the Limetree Resort (now Bluebeard's Beach Club), followed by the Elysian Beach Resort in 1991. Both now are timeshare properties.

"Most of us came back in the late '80s to help run this operation," Doumeng said. "Hurricane Marilyn in 1995 broke the economy here for a while. My dad's partners walked away from Bolongo, and he gave up the other two properties in return for Bolongo."

Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, Heavenly Daze catamaranThe starting rate in 1974 was $45 per room, per night; today's rates start at $450 per room, per night, double, and $550 for the all-inclusive plan. A solid 40% of Bolongo guests choose the all-inclusive option, introduced in 1988.

All rooms have a refrigerator, microwave and coffeemaker. WiFi is complimentary and available propertywide.

"It's part of guests' expectations. My dad always said that it is easier to deal with people if the amenities are free," Doumeng said.

Iggies Beach Bar & Grill opened at Limetree, moved over to Bolongo and is open every night of the year with live music.

"It skews to an energetic crowd, but we shut down at 11 p.m.," Doumeng said.

Bolongo's second restaurant is the Lobster Grill near the pool.

"It's crazy to run two restaurants in a 75-room resort, but we do," he said. "We're not just tenants, St. Thomas is our home."

Dick Doumeng died in 2012. He'd served as president of the St. Thomas/St. John Hotel Association six times, was a director for 20 years and had been a regional vice president of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association. Richard is the group's current president.

"We've gotten offers to walk away from Bolongo; we're not. We're in a wait-and-see mode regarding a renovation and expansion. We want to take Bolongo to a level where it hasn't been before," Doumeng said.

Frequent guest Greg Lao summed up what Bolongo has meant to its legions of fans.

"Bolongo has preserved the essence of what the Caribbean was all about in the 1970s: a simpler and friendlier place where you can rest and recharge your soul or let yourself loose and have a great time, or a little of both."

Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly. 


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