Joan Benita Braithwaite, owner, Viola’s Place
I was a classroom teacher from the time I left school. I was working at Five Rivers Junior Secondary School. My husband was a policeman who studied and became an attorney, and he always had these dreams, was always planning. He came to Tobago to court one day, and he saw this land was being developed. He is from Buccoo. He told his assistant that he saw some land being cleared in Lowlands and he wanted a piece. It so happened that day he went to lunch at Blue Crab restaurant where he always used to go, and he met a schoolmate. That friend was in charge of the land. And that was the beginning. This was about 1988/89. He was thinking about what to do. He want to put a supermarket, he want to do this, he want to do that, and I am just keeping quiet. I am just there to support. One Sunday after lunch we’re lying on the bed, and he say, “So Joan, I am dreaming, but you not dreaming with me?” I see in the newspaper right there ‘We’re offering a diploma in Hotel Management.’ I say “James, look at this. I am going to do this programme”. He said, “You sure?” and I said, “Yes.” He just watch me and continue what he was doing. I did the programme and graduated in 1991. We did not start to build until 1993.
Well, as the hotel started to build, I started to plan. I went to the joiner, organise all the furniture. I say it not too early to get organise. When the building finish, we must be ready. I could sew, so I started to buy material, and sew the drapery and I had everything packed up there in July. I took in the registration [to request permission to leave], and I took it in personally and they said it would take a year to process. I told her “I am a classroom teacher, I am not a truant teacher, and I don’t want you to make me a truant teacher. My husband is going to open a business, I want to be there to support.” The other teachers in school told me “You eh getting no permission to leave.”
School opened the Monday in September, I went in, make sure everything was covered, all the charts, and everybody asking, “Braithwaite, what you doing?”. I said, “I told you, I am leaving.” The principal called me in a little later and said, “Mrs Braithwaite, I have just been notified by the Ministry [of Education], that you have been granted permission to leave.”
And so, I came to Tobago to get Viola’s Place ready. I was there alone for the first few days. I am not a housekeeper. The place was blessed, and the minister prayed that this place will grow like a mustard seed.
We started with 11 rooms; now, we have 24. And the guests became like family. Some of these guests old like me now, and they still come and want to see Ms Braithwaite. I am not there now, but my son is, and it still like family. That one on one, and we still ask guests what they like, what they feel we can improve.
Two years before the pandemic, we had a serious transportation problem between Trinidad and Tobago, so guests could not get transport to come, and business was down. So, when the pandemic come, well I had all the members of staff, I never closed our doors. We had senior members of staff who are monthly paid, and others who were paid daily. The permanent members of staff I never sent home. I gave them their vacation money so we wouldn’t have vacation again, because no guests were really coming in, and the others were paid for when they came in.
When savings started to get low, I did a one on one, with the front office staff. One would work Monday; one would work Tuesday. Those who were unemployed, I helped all of them with the grant. They were still getting whatever we had. When the savings were almost gone, I prayed, “Lord Father, the savings almost gone? What will happen?” I had four rooms that were long-term rentals and that helped to pay the bills. It so happen when things were really getting tight, business open a little bit, and the return guests came with their friends.
I wrote a prayer that my staff and I say every day, blessing us, for protection, for guidance and protection. I say thanks every day, and for my staff. I share as well, whatever produce I get from the land with them. I tell people that God sends them when I need them. People will come.
My son who is in Washington decided to come back and I say thank God. I am a child of God. Since I am aware of life, I have been blessed and everything that happened in my life, was a blessing or a message. I live every day like that. I get up at five in the morning, do the adoration, say the rosary, and then do whatever I have to do for the day. Five to eight is for the Lord. My husband died 15 years ago, and without the Lord, I couldn’t have managed. I don’t pray for money or material things, that is what I learnt from my mother and God has been good to all of us, the entire family.