Jason Henzell Wants to Create the Martha’s Vineyard of Jamaica
Jason Henzell has the accent and the pedigree to do quite well in Jamaica. His father Perry Henzell produced and directed the defining film about Jamaica heard ’round the world, The Harder They Come, starring Jimmy Cliff. A movie poster decorates Henzell and his family’s inn, Jake’s Hotel, on Treasure Beach on the south coast. It’s decidedly more rural here, a village, he told us over a breakfast of akee and saltfish, the national dish.
“I want to create the Martha’s Vineyard of Jamaica!” he said. He told us about meeting Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick in Provincetown, and how a friend who owns five restaurants on the cape shares dozens of his best workers during the off season. It works out great–we met our boatman Captain Joseph who lit up when I said I was from Mass, “I go to Provincetown every year!”
What Henzell has done here at Jakes is to create a farm to table experience here in rural Jamaica. The area is full of small farmers and fishermen who sell their wares to the Inn. A farm to table dinner out in a local farmer’s field brings a long, long table and an eager crowd of guests when it’s held every month. But the thing that really excites Jason is sports.
“You’ve got to come see our sports complex!” he said, and we rode bikes down country lanes and met him with blueprints in his hand, showing us first the beautiful two soccer fields, and one set up for cricket. Henzell is a master of getting partnerships, sponsorships and other financial devices to expand his vision of turning St Elizabeth parish into Jamaica’s sports capital. They hit up Digicell the local cellphone providers, for the fields, and Scotia Bank for the basketball courts. “I took the guy out here after they agreed to pay for half, and I said, ‘Hey we can’t play on half a court.” So in six months we got the other half!”
He has vision…and he has builders working on the first pavillion that will seat 700. But the plans call for much more grand expansion, and adding a baseball diamond. The kids in the area have flocked to the sports center’s pristine basketball and tennis courts, and we watched workers preparing yet another solar powered irrigation set up for another big soccer field. Henzell cajoles, makes deals with local politicians, and finds a way to keep his baby going, all under the aegis of the charity called Breds.
“We had a little tiny mention in Conde Nast Traveler, and they asked if we had a helipad. Not yet, but we built one soon enough.” He hired PR agencies in New York and London, and began cultivating a high end boutique property that emphasizes the ruralness, but has thick towels and plenty of hot water.
Today they have 30 rooms in the hotel, three cottages with two bedrooms and three four bedroom villas. They have on site nannies and yes, you can come by helicopter.