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The Roots of Success


It is impossible to fully appreciate the food of Chef Evelyn without knowing a little bit about the path she took.

“When I was about 17 years old, I started working at a restaurant, and that was when my whole hospitality experience bloomed,” she said, adding that “the manager took me and started training me to work throughout the industry. My first job was cleaning toilets.”

After making her way to the BVI, she worked for a number of years at Little Thatch. “Jon Marley, general manager for Little Thatch, was an awesome teacher. Another local chef named Sinclair Crabb has his own restaurant on St. Thomas. A lot of BVIslanders would remember his ‘Chillin Café’ at the CSY dock. Those were the people who were instrumental in helping me to gear up and open my own restaurant on Tortola,” she said.

Recalling the beginnings of D’ Coal Pot which was located first in Cappoons Bay, (Little Apple Bay) Evelyn said the name which she gave great thought to, came from a tradition (past and present) and a surname that is popular through the BVI. “There were a couple of things that I thought of. The coal pot was used for centuries throughout the Caribbean to cook and bake and is still being used today and the ‘D’ stands for ‘Dawson,’ that’s our last name, me and my husband’s.” she explained.

“Being in Little Apple Bay was a short but fruitful start as it propelled me as a chef, and my restaurant as a place to put on your ‘where to eat and drink list’ while in the BVI,” said Chef Dawson. “But it was time to move and improve,” She added.

In making the move from Little Apple to Carrot Bay, she said that the design goal was to create a space that was contemporary and relevant, but still respectful of her clientele and those from the former Palms Delight Restaurant that once occupied the same space. “Over the years Palms Delight which was owned and operated by my Mother In-law, Iona Dawson had established itself as a takeout restaurant for many of the locals in the area. I wanted to maintain that while catering to my transient guest uninterruptedly. Therefore, we segmented the space into what became a convenient pick-up spot at the bar where they can have a cocktail while watching a televised event as they wait. On the same level, we emphatically designed a spacious dining room, with comfortable wood furnishings and large windows, cooled by the north shore sea breeze and offered a quieter ambiance (well-suited to private and corporate events).” She explained.

“After all my years in the business,” said Evelyn, I can say that this place is running at a higher efficiency than any restaurant that I have ever been involved with. In fact, I would put us up against any of the top restaurants throughout the BVI, and that is extraordinary for a place that’s only been open for this short amount of time. This is really our first full season since we moved and it is amazing how smoothly we are running, thanks to the competence of the staff.”

D’ Coal Pot cuisine is strongly influenced by a mix of local and regional artisanal sources — dishes like roti from owner Evelyn Wong-Dawson’s native Guyana and lobster caught fresh in the waters of the British Virgin Islands and around the Caribbean — recipes she has spent most of her life perfecting, despite having no culinary training, as she’ll be the first to admit.

Shortly after the restaurant was opened in 2017, Evelyn could not have known that when disaster struck, the restaurant she worked so hard to build would become the epicenter for community aid. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, D’Coal Pot at the water’s edge in Carrot Bay was the place to get a meal, to communicate with friends and neighbors, and to work on the rebuilding of the community.

“Two days after Hurricane Irma, 1st District Representative, Hon. Andrew Fahie needed to store and distribute the food aid that was coming through for the community and we opened our restaurant for that,” she said, given that most of the restaurant was still intact. “We had meetings and volunteer services coming in. It was used as a clinic; if the government had to broadcast news, they would come down to D’ Coal Pot. As people stopped by, they would always ask when the restaurant would be reopened for real and they had their answer a few months later.” She added.

Ms. Dawson has big plans for the restaurant in the coming year, including serving lunch on the rooftop. “We have almost a 300-degree view,” she said. She also plans to start showcasing rum and draw in bigger crowds by featuring different bands on the weekends. “We need a big enough space to be able to do that,” she said. “I’m hoping 2019 or 2020, we can put all these plans in place.”

Words by Heather Skarde