Widely celebrated as a culinary landmark of the Caribbean, Blanchards Restaurant has been drawing foodies to Anguilla’s scenic Meads Bay for 25 years. Beyond its flavourful fare and enviable aesthetic, Blanchards has become famous for its story: the restaurant’s genesis came after lifetime entrepreneurs Bob and Melinda Blanchard fell in love with Anguilla and decided to create a new life on the island. Wielding the sort of wisdom that can only come from half a century of marriage and decades of business success, the Blanchards have expanded their restaurant with a neighbouring Beach Shack, specializing in casual but no-less-innovative cuisine. We sat down with Bob and Melinda to talk a bit more about their story, the island, and what makes Blanchards tick.
You were both experienced restaurateurs even before coming to Anguilla. What was it that first drew you to the Caribbean?
We first came to Anguilla as tourists in 1985 and it was love at first sight. We had been to many other islands in the region and everything about Anguilla felt different. Most of all, however, what we remember most is that we felt safe and that the people were genuinely warm and welcoming. They were really invested in making sure visitors loved their island, as they did.
Blanchards is a bit of an institution now, but we’re assuming it wasn’t always smooth sailing. What were some of the challenges you faced in the early days?
Getting food and supplies was a whole different process in the early days. As you can imagine, being on an island does come with some challenges to balance the many benefits.We remember having to go to St. Martin as often as 2-3 times/week to get simple things that we take for granted now. Anguilla was a very different place back in the 80s and early 90s.
It sounds like things on the island have changed since then. What can you say about the growth of Anguilla over the years you’ve lived there?
The business end of things has gotten much easier. Customs has computers instead of using carbon paper for entries – that was a huge change! Banking is easier and more professional. There are also more expats on the island and everything is busier than when we started. We can’t complain about the increased business, but we do feel nostalgic for those quieter, simpler days from time to time.
How would you describe Anguilla to someone who’s never been? What is the essence of Anguilla today?
So many people think that all Caribbean islands are the same. They all certainly have palm trees, sunshine and beaches. But, if you’re looking for a magical place where the people are kind, the food is great and where you spend your days relaxing instead of casino hopping and fighting the crowds at duty-free shops, Anguilla is the perfect destination.
Let’s talk about the famous beachside restaurant that bears your names! What would you say is the culinary or personal philosophy behind Blanchards?
We don’t fuss over our food like some trained chefs. I never went to culinary school and in fact, majored in social work and minored in theatre. Our food is fresh, uncomplicated and always full of flavour. However, we tend to pay as much attention to the entire dining experience as we do to the food. Food is only part of the whole package. Our goal is to create memories for each and every guest at both the restaurant and the Beach Shack, and that takes a lot more than just creating a good menu.
What is one of your favourite menu items from either Blanchards or the Beach Shack?
It’s hard to narrow it down but we both love the Red Curry Mussels at Blanchards and the Kale Salad with Warm Goat Cheese at the Beach Shack.
What do you two do on your days off? Do you ever decide to leave paradise and travel abroad?
Days off? Are you kidding? Haven’t had one in years! Just because we’re closed on Sundays doesn’t mean there’s no work to do. If we do take a trip, it’s either to Santa Fe to visit our grandchildren or to France, where we source most of our wine.
If you had to do it over again, what would you change?
Nothing at all.
Here is a delicious recipe for Blanchards Coconut Curried Chicken that you can try at home!