Kareem’s Quest: Alwyn taking a shark approach to his business
It's hard to drive past Runaway Bay in St Ann and not notice a spot that is usually outlined with vehicular traffic, Sharkies Seafood Restaurant. Over the past few years, the establishment has become a ‘must-stop’ spot for locals and tourists alike.
The perimeter wall is painted in light blue and white, and the prominent logo of a shark stands next to the entrance wall. As I drove on to the property, I was greeted with a parking lot covered with sand and a prominent almond tree in the centre. The area was packed, so I decided to drive closer to the sea, which was sprinkled with coconut trees and fishermen boats that were parked for later use.
I found a spot, on the beach, about 30 feet from the sea and a Rastaman quickly provided assistance. While stating to the driver behind me, “Sorry driver, this spot is now taken, I soon come help you find parking.”
He then proceeded to direct me as I reversed, and tapped the trunk when the vehicle reached close to a rock. When I came out of the car, I gave him a gratuitous nod and walked towards the dining area.
A gentleman came up to me with short locked hair, ripped jeans and a company-branded T-shirt. He then asked in a soft-toned voice, “Are you the guy who is coming to do the interview?”
To which I responded, “Yes, I am here to speak with the owner, Alwyn Brown. Can you help me find him”
With a huge grin on his face, he said, “I am Alwyn. Don’t worry, most persons don’t realise I am the owner, because I don’t dress like the typical boss. I like to blend in with my workers because anything I ask them to do, I have to be willing to do it as well.”
After a light laughter, I told him how impressed I was with his establishment and asked about the origin of his business savviness. “My parents were educators and we had a little plot of land that we would do farming on. So from an early age, me and my sibling would have to get up early and work the soil.”
The University of Technology graduate stayed close to these roots, and was never flabbergasted by the city lights of Kingston when he achieved his degree in construction technology. “I always love Runaway Bay. I grew up a few minutes from here and can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
After matriculating from university, Brown began working with the St Ann Parish Council; however, during the process he got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. “I always wanted to do something for myself, so I was always looking for opportunities. Then one day, I found out that Sharkies was up for sale so I seized the moment.”
Brown said things were challenging in the initial stages, because he had very little experience in the restaurant industry. “Everything was new to me at first, so I had a lot of sleepless nights. I had to wake up extra early in the mornings, open the place and ensure inventory was good. Then I went to work and came back on my lunchtime. After work, I would come back and stay until the place close.”
As business started taking off, Brown could no longer keep two jobs; subsequently, he ended his 11-year run with the parish council to focus solely on his business.
Since then, he has seen his business grow in popularity and customers, especially with his annual stage show, Sharkies Seafood Festival, that was held pre-COVID-19. “Those events are massive, so we have to do a lot to transform the area, so that the stage does not disrupt the restaurant. As for the artistes, I have never had a no-show. Everybody I have booked has appeared, and one of the biggest crowd favourites is Romain Virgo.”
Sharkies has maintained a good customer base throughout the pandemic, due in large part to how it has treated locals over the years, as well as celebrity endorsements. “Every artiste you can think of has visited Sharkies, from Popcaan, US rapper Meek Mel to Brian McKnight. And when they come through, they always big us up on social media.”
Brown also emphasised that the local support has helped him greatly to not lay off his staff, all of whom are from the community. “I directly employ over 50 people, so you are talking about 50 families. Plus, there are the fishermen as well as the landscaping people, who are not on staff.”
By the time we finished talking, night had come and I was hungry, so we ended the conversation and I ordered the highly recommended seafood platter.
Who is it for? Persons who want a friendly dining place to lime, by the sea.
Tip: Even though the waiting time is short, try to order in advance by calling.
What stands out? The fact that the establishment is beside the beach.
Must-try food: Appetiser: Shrimp tacos, entree: seafood platter – fish, shrimp and lobster.
Social media: instagram: sharkiesseafoodrestaurant, email: email@example.com
Location: Runaway Bay, St Ann.
Length of journey from central points:
Kingston: 1 hr 16 mins
Montego Bay: 1 hr 14 mins
Ocho Rios: 30 mins
Savanna-la-Mar: 2 hrs 13 mins