Through Thick & Thin
- March 6th, 2023
- in Lifestyle
The Brandywine Estate Restaurant Story
As a community, we have seen Brandywine’s Regis and Claudine Bourdon, supported by their loyal family of staff and customers go through many twists and turns of life. They are survivors, with a chameleon-like entrepreneurial spirit that has ensured they and their “extended family” come out on top no matter how difficult the challenge.
Regis Bourdon, Brandywine’s Co-owner and Executive Chef was born in Lyon and grew up in Nice. He began his apprenticeship when he was 14-years old and gained experience in restaurants all along the Côte d’Azur.
Claudine, originally from Scotland followed her older brother Damian to the BVI at the age of 21. She worked at Spaghetti Junction, Billy Bones (later Pirate’s Bight) and finally Quito’s. The BVI was her home for 5-years until she left her apartment in Cane Garden Bay for Fort Lauderdale to work on mega yachts. “But even back then I always knew the BVI would be a great place to own a restaurant” she says.
They are survivors, with a chameleon-like entrepreneurial spirit that has ensured they and their “extended family” come out on top no matter how difficult the challenge.
By this time, Regis had been a Head Chef on mega yachts for over 15-years in the Mediterranean, New England, the Bahamas and throughout the Caribbean. In 2007 the couple met on a mega yacht in the Bahamas and 2010 saw their first foray into restaurant ownership, The Beach Hut in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. Just over a year later they returned to the mega yacht industry.
Soon after, a friend from the BVI, Joanna Morris got in touch – Mr and Mrs Nygren were looking for someone to take over the lease at Brandywine Estate. As Regis and Claudine were working on a mega yacht and it was the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show they couldn’t just take a few days off, it had to be an immediate decision – stay, or leave and go forever. “So we knew then that we were committed to the BVI and we never went back” says Claudine.
In October 2011, Regis and Claudine with the help of Regis’ Dad, Bernard refurbished the worn out old building – a hard slog to say the least. “It was in total disrepair and the roof was falling in” says Claudine. “We moved the bar from the back of the building to its current location and dug up the cobble stone floor so we could put tables in front of the bar overlooking the view of the sparkling Sir Francis Drake Channel”.
Regis and Claudine with the help of Regis’ Dad, Bernard refurbished the worn out old building – a hard slog to say the least. “It was in total disrepair and the roof was falling in” says Claudine. “We moved the bar from the back of the building to its current location and dug up the cobble stone floor so we could put tables in front of the bar overlooking the view of the sparkling Sir Francis Drake Channel”.
“Because of my time in the BVI in my 20’s, the fact my brother was the captain of the rugby team and his wife a Hedge Fund Manager, there were connections, so we had a foundation” Claudine continues. “That meant Brandywine was quite successful right from the start”.
Regis and Claudine’s loyalty, commitment to family and the community is what holds the team together – customers, staff and suppliers are treated as extended family.
However, Regis laughs and explains candidly that “the environment is pressured and many times, that family is dysfunctional and we argue. But in the end, we support each other” he says.
Aladin Arayata joined Brandywine in 2015. Born and bred in Subic Bay, on the island of Luzon in the Philippines to parents who were singers at the U.S Naval Base nearby. Aladin’s Mum taught him how to cook from the age of 7-years old. “My Mum was a great cook” he says. “She would take me to the market and give me money to find fish to cook and make sure a little profit was leftover. She taught me how to stretch a budget”. This valuable skill would serve him well throughout his life and career.
At University he studied to be an architect and washed dishes to make ends meet, but after failing the final exams he fell into what he knew – cooking. He learned to stand his ground the hard way as a Chef in over 18 different restaurants including French, Italian and Spanish cuisines and later worked for two years in a Hotel in Yemen where his colleagues only spoke Arabic. After the Civil War in Yemen began, Aladin returned to Philippines as Head Chef for a restaurant chain with 28 branches.
“Then one night during a typhoon Chef Regis called me. I could hardly hear him, let alone understand his accent” says Aladin. “So I told him to call back another time – I had no idea what he was calling about!” he laughs. Unbeknownst to him, his sister who lived in the BVI applied for the role of Sous Chef on his behalf.
In life some things are meant to be and now there is no second Chef at Brandywine, but two head chefs working together. “Sometimes when we are serving 70-80 people we don’t need to speak” says Regis. “Emotions do run high, but we understand each other”. Aladin jibes “Most times we fight like cat and dog! But we still continue working and no matter how hard we fight, we never leave our stations”.
A blow came in 2017, when Irma struck the Restaurant and the family’s home was destroyed. Regis, Claudine, young son Luka and Aladin were lucky to emerge unscathed, but traumatised as so many others in the community were. During the following weeks and months, Regis, Claudine, Aladin and the Brandywine staff joined Al Broderick in the Free Food for Kids and Convey of Hope initiatives. The teams cooked thousands of meals for those in need. “I was just trying to help my staff stay in some paid employment and put food on their table, as well as look after my own family” says Regis.
At this time Adopt-a-Roof was also formed. Regis, Claudine and Belinda Dabbs found beneficiaries and coordinated significant building efforts. Through this cause many people’s lives were changed immeasurably with one elderly recipient whose whole house was rebuilt. Mikey Chalwell and family donated construction products to rebuild roofs with the kind support of other donors throughout the community.
While assessing the damage and putting their lives back together with Luka just a toddler and new baby Nykita, the Bourdons opened a restaurant in 2018 in Road Town called The Rooftop – a place that was very welcome to a community deprived of somewhere to dine, socialise and take a break from the daily grind of rebuilding. This also gave the family of staff paid employment while Brandywine Estate Restaurant was totally reconstructed over the following 12-months by Architect Lavina Liburd and construction company Rufred Forbes Associates.
Creating The Rooftop was pure blood, sweat and tears. Regis, Aladin and a couple of construction workers did everything themselves. The location had no elevators and in the beginning, no stairs. Materials were hauled floor-by-floor using a pulley system up the side of the building and the ovens were carried pallbearer-style by six men up four stories.
Aladin was Head Chef at The Rooftop, running it almost completely so Regis could focus on the rebuild at Brandywine. The Rooftop ran successfully until early in the pandemic when it was forced to close.
“Aladin is a versatile Chef” says Regis. “He is in charge when I am not here, and I do not worry when I’m not here. Over the last 7-years he has learned my way of working, and then put his own mark on the kitchenand the menu” he says.
In April 2020 with the onset of the pandemic, the day before lockdown Aladin had to rush to St. Vincent where his wife was about to deliver their first child, a son. The skills his mother taught him when he was young went a long way to keep his family fed. The family could not survive with the small amount of support from friends and family, so Aladin would catch and smoke fish and pick mangoes to sell. “I would do whatever I could to get formula for my son” he says.
Meanwhile, back at Brandywine one of the Chefs quarantined with the Bourdons. Many of the food providers throughout the BVI, some individuals in Government and financial institutions helped and the team were turning out 200-300 meals per day that were picked up and distributed throughout the community by Red Cross, Dr. the Hon. Natalio Wheatley of District 7, Hon. Marlon A. Penn and Family Support Network.
When Aladin and his wife and son returned to the BVI 6-months later, Mr and Mrs Nygren together with some of Brandywine’s customers provided the financial support that Regis and Claudine needed to keep their staff in paid employment. “One of the reasons Brandywine still exists today, after two major crises is due to Mr and Mrs Nygren being so financially understanding of the Restaurant’s situation” says Regis.
In the end, there are many reasons that Brandywine Estate Restaurant is so successful – Restaurateurs that are resilient and resourceful plays a big part, just as staff do – some working with the couple for over 10-years such as Jocelyn and Marsha are considered to be extended family, not to mention customers and suppliers that are valued. Santé! to the Brandywine family – long may it continue to be a special part of our community.