June 9, 2005 – Developing from just a thought 10 years ago, the Meson Amalia Palm Passage on St. Thomas is the realization of the dreams of Randolph Maynard and his wife, Helga, who opened the restaurant in 2002 to find a larger home for another of their commercial ventures.
"We opened our first business, Pita Express, in 1993, delivering sandwiches and food to offices downtown, running it from our apartment," Maynard said. "As it grew, we tried to find another location on Back Street, but the office we had was so small that we were producing more than was logical for the space. Once we outgrew the location, we started scouting for new areas and ended up in Palm Passage, which was perfect because we could in conjunction open up our full-service restaurant."
But getting there wasn't as easy as it sounds. Maynard, also an artist, said he initially wanted to establish his own gallery on the island, but after four months of looking for property, he realized it wasn't going to happen. "I did, however, meet the man who was to become my future chef," added Maynard. That man was Francisco Sancho, who was then an employee of the Acacia restaurant in the Yacht Haven Marina.
Their initial partnership dissolved, however, and Sancho moved back to Spain. Maynard spent the next six months traveling, contemplating moving to Chicago or Canada before returning to the Virgin Islands and meeting Helga, who started as his business partner for Pita Express, helping to build the solid reputation which spawned the expanded restaurant operation.
Constant correspondence and visits to Sancho in Spain also helped fuel the creation of a restaurant. "Helga and I always knew that we wanted to serve Spanish food because it is honest, simple, and straightforward. It doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is," said Maynard. His love of the culture helped as he put together his primarily Santo Domingan staff and determined his menu. It also led to the fulfillment of his desire for his "own niche within the community, a little corner of the market."
Within this setting, diners are able to feast on tapas, seafood and meat dishes influenced by the tastes of the Catalan region in Spain.
"We see a lot of Europeans here for lunch and dinner who understand the cuisines. It's not foreign to them," said Maynard, who noted that his dishes are also familiar locally with a little cultural or ethnic twist. However, because the downtown area is not generally a nighttime destination, V.I. residents have not comprised a good portion of those frequenting the restaurant. Maynard is not discouraged, though. Believing in the longevity of his business, this owner knows it will one day become a cornerstone in the community. He has put his efforts into making it an institution.
In some way, this idea seems to be made possible by the inclusion of his family on the scene. "This is definitely a family place," said Maynard, who involves not only Helga, but son Ammiel and daughter Aviela as well. "I want the kids to know the business because it has been sustaining their lifestyle," he joked, adding that the birth of his children has enabled the restaurant to become more kid friendly, mentioning the use of top-of-the-line high chairs. Anything children want that's not on the menu may certainly be requested and made by the staff.
Drawing upon earlier days at a waiter for a restaurant in Antigua, Maynard conveyed that Meson Amelia seeks to put back something that has been taken out of the community — a commitment to and pride in service. Waiters at his first job used tips to pay for the education of their own children, and Maynard's restaurant seeks to provide customers with a quality of service much like the restaurants of his adolescence.
"Whatever the hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might because there is no labor or reward in the grave," he said when asked about this business philosophy. "Some of my staff may think I'm a tyrant, but if you're going to do something, do it, because at the very least you owe it to your customers."
In business for the past three years and five months, Maynard puts this proverb to good use running the Meson Amelia and Pita Express, while continuing to build his dreams with the establishment of future restaurants and various other endeavors.
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