Leighton Levy, Gleaner Writer
It has been 23 years since Little Ochie, that quaint seafood restaurant that overlooks the black sand of the island's south coast, has been offering Jamaicans and visitors alike a languid getaway from the increasingly fast-paced world.
And, the Little Ochie's annual Bigga Seafood Carnival 2012 set for July 6 to 8, now in its 14th year and endorsed by the Jamaica50 Secretariat, has also become one of the can't-miss events for lovers of seafood, or for those who just want to enjoy an experience much different from what people have come to expect from Jamaica. "It's a family, fun event that we use to showcase new additions to our menu each year," said Evrol Christian, the proprietor, who added that two new dishes will join the already mouth-watering fare that will be on offer during the festival that, over the years, has attracted bands like Byron Lee and the Dragonaires and some of the island's leading sound systems and entertainers.
Through time, the seafood carnival has brought much more than entertainment value to the once-sleepy little town of Alligator Pond. Christian's restaurant employs about 48 people directly impacting the lives of about 300 persons, and the impact extends well beyond the immediate community. The Little Ochie Seafood Carnival brings people in from all over the world and all over the island, bringing brisk business for the community. According to Christian, more popularly known as Blackie, farmers and fishermen from right across the south coast do good business providing the raw food that is prepared and fed to the estimated 8,000 visitors the festival attracts each year. The seafood that includes shark, lobster and other exotic fare is brought in by fishermen from Old Harbour Bay, Rocky Point, Whitehouse, and Alligator Pond.
The economic impact has not gone unnoticed. "I have watched Blackie start his little food project with a pot and a wood fire and I have seen him grow and put Alligator Pond on the map," said Member of Parliament Michael Peart. "Alligator Pond is now a tourist attraction. Little Ochie is now more than a restaurant; it is an item on people's social agenda. I am proud of his efforts."
Peart reveals that almost everyone in Alligator Pond and the surrounding communities have benefited from the growth of Little Ochie, directly and indirectly. He said other restaurants have followed Christian's footsteps, like Bowl of Grapes and Oswald's that is run by a former Little Ochie employee. The volume of people that visit Little Ochie also benefits all the other businesses in Alligator Pond, he said.
President of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Wendy Freckleton, believes the festival has made a significant impact on the Manchester community. She reveals that every year since the festival began, the restaurants run out of seafood because of the high demand, and she lauded Christian for the work he has been doing in keeping it going. "People have always looked forward to attending," she said. "It's the only festival in central Jamaica and has been sustained for over 14 years.
"Residents of Alligator Pond and nearby fishing villages being the main suppliers of the festival, they appreciate the additional business it generates by attracting visitors local and overseas," she continued. "Mr Christian and residents of Alligator Pond must be lauded for pressing along and continuing with the festival despite the economic challenges. Kudos must also go to them for helping with the development of Alligator Pond and, by extension, the community of Manchester."
It is for reasons such as this, and more, why the Little Ochie Seafood Carnival continues to attract a wide range of sponsors, which this year includes Bigga, Excelsior, RJR, Hot 102FM, The Gleaner, Appleton, Stones Ginger Wine, KLAS and Digicel.
Peart says he hopes to get funding from the Tourism Enhancement Fund to improve the aesthetics of Alligator Pond, which he hopes will help bring even more business to the once-sleepy town in central Jamaica.