Friday, 08 February 2013 02:30
By Delana Isles
Antigua St. John's - It may not appear much to some, others might think it not enough, but Johnny Coconat, with his little “Slice” of pizza paradise, is doing his bit to give back to the Antiguan community and show a little love for those that have been left behind.
Located at Unit #10 in the Vendor's Mall on Redcliffe Street, Slice is more than just a place to grab a bite or two of delicious pizza. It is a treat for the eyes as well, with stools made out of palm trees, other parts of trees decoratively scattered around the shop, and recycled items inlaid in the countertop - all designed to create that Caribbean vibe of cultural relaxation.
Grabbing a few minutes of Johnny's time is no simple matter, as customers vie for his attention and his ready smile when chatting or serving. But he managed to work in a few minutes for Caribarena.
He told of his vision to open a restaurant in Antigua that was truly representative of the Caribbean, and his road to achieving this while lending a hand, a slice of pizza, or an encouraging word to whoever might be in need.
"I used to have a restaurant in English Harbour and it was doing ok... but I was looking more for the Caribbean vibes, which I didn't really find in English Harbour," Johnny said.
He added that the moneyed crowd didn't quite cut it for him, or fit into his vision of what he wanted his shop to represent.
"It was more Europeans that came here, a yachting world that I wasn't familiar with, a lot of money and a lot things that don't really represent what I live for and the reason why I decided to leave England... so we sold it,” the entrepreneur said.
That decision led to Slice, which Johnny advised is more affordable for patrons and made of quality products.
He noted, "Everybody can afford it. Mommies, they don't get salaries on a Friday, and with just $15 they can please the kids, so it’s quite nice. What we did, we build it nice and we try to make a good product and try to make it affordable and bring a bit of love around."
He added that since they opened they have tried to spread what love they can to the Amazing Grace kids’ home and the girls’ home.
"For Christmas, we invite them all over here as a Christmas gift to give them a day out,” he said.
Last October, Johnny and his pizza crew took their programme to the prisons, where they fed 300 prisoners.
"We went inside in the kitchen there and hand delivered the pizza, and that was also another nice experience,” he said. “But recently, I got a bit annoyed because I employed a guy with a sort of a troubled past.”
He added that since the guy, Brian, has worked for him, he has seen potential and a willingness to work from him.
"But what really bothered me is that I heard comments from some people that they love the place and they love the food, but they won't come because this guy is in the kitchen,” Johnny said.
He said everyone deserves a chance.
"We all end up in a ditch and if we are lucky, somebody would give us a helping hand, and if we are brave enough, we grab hold and pull ourselves out," he said.
He added that Brian is trying very hard, and it would be nice if people would forget those who might come from troubled pasts.
"We don't know the scenario, it may be something to do with weakness, something to do with attitude, or something to do with life,” he said, “but it seems like this is a small island and people, they constantly look up and they forget that if you look down a little bit there are a lot of people that with a little help, things could get a little better for them."
He said he is looking to see how else he can assist those in need in the country.
"Some would call it a mission, but this is a project, and that's why it’s called Slice, because one little slice goes a long way," Johnny said.