The Specials is an ongoing series of interviews with the unsung heroes of hospitality — from managers, waiters and sommeliers to dishwashers, farmers and foragers.
Originally from Canada, Carolyn Robinson is the general manager at Hemingway’s Restaurant — a beachfront eatery located in the Turks & Caicos.
I fell in love with hospitality at McDonald’s
When I was 16, I began working on the till at a branch in Toronto. To this day, I think it was the best training you can have. They instilled a strong work ethic from the get-go — about punctuality, responsibility, and so on. I viewed it as a corporate job because I had to answer to different managers and superiors — many of whom had worked at McDonald's for years. I understood then why people would stay in a job or career for so long doing something they enjoyed and it propelled me into thinking that hospitality could be a long-term career.
I thought about becoming a travel writer
I studied travel and tourism at college because I liked to travel. I’ve since had varied careers in the hospitality field — at a health club, on a cruise ship, for a racing car team, and at a brasserie in downtown Toronto. Travelling all over the world, dealing with thousands of guests, and having interactions with different personalities — all those experiences have definitely helped me become a better manager.
Moving to the Turks & Caicos was a no-brainer
I first came to the islands in 1995 to work for Club Med and fell in love with them. After Club Med, I continued to come back for vacations and, 18 years ago, I was in the right place at the right time when I was offered my current role. I said yes straightaway. Providenciales — aka Provo — is a tiny island with a beautiful beach that has been voted the best in the world and it’s awesome if you’re into water sports.
Look out for JoJo when you visit Hemingway’s
Our style of service is casual, which compliments our laidback environment. We cater to the local public as well as repeat vacationers who love our “just kick back, relax, and enjoy the view” type of greeting. One “attraction” that also draws people in is JoJo the dolphin. If a diner is lucky enough to spot him, there’s a bell on our deck they can ring.
My leadership style is very hands-on
We have 50-plus employees and I manage 30 of them. It’s an eclectic team from the surrounding Caribbean Islands: Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica. It’s a melting pot of languages and cultures. I try my best to lead by example. I think that's probably been my thing for the last couple of years: supporting them as much as I can. I’m probably out there more than others feel I should be!
Guests are more sophisticated than ever
Diners are certainly savvier than they were 20 years ago, which has made us step up our game and has been a slight learning curve for some of our staff. Even though we have a casual setting, times have changed and we’ve had to change with them.
I love making a difference in people’s lives
Hospitality itself isn’t rocket science but it is a skill that not everyone can do. My sister works in healthcare, which I know I could never work in because that’s not my personality and vice versa. We joke with each other and say, “I could never do what you do”.
My “wow” moment? When I invited my parents to dinner
I was always the daughter who didn't know what she wanted to do. One year I wanted to be a teacher, the next it was travel writing. One day I invited my parents to dine at the French bistro I was working for at the time in Toronto. It was a cuisine and an environment my parents weren’t familiar with. When my dad received his steak, he was like, “Where’s the rest of it?” At the end of the night, when I was able to join my parents, my dad turned to me and said, “I’m really, really proud of you. Look at where you're working. Look how far you've come.” I know they always respected me, but I think they worried about me because I was kind of flighty, so for my dad to say that to me, I knew I’d finally found my calling in hospitality but to have the confirmation from my dad… that was like, wow.
As told to Superb. The interview has been edited for clarity and concision.