Llewellyn Caines: “Sunshine” in paradise | Nevis

How did tiny Nevis come to have one of the Caribbean’s most famous beach bars? Garry Steckles meets Llewellyn “Sunshine” Caines and hears the story behind his Pinney’s Beach establishment, its celebrity clientele — and the lethally delicious Killer Bee rum cocktail. Plus: why a new geothermal project could soon make the island one of the world’s greenest destinations, and an exporter of energy to its neighbours

The white sand and blue waters of Pinney’s Beach, home of Sunshine’s. Photo by Peter Phipp/Travelshots.comSunshine’s laid-back beach bar. Photo by Errol Pemberton“Sunshine” Caines himself. Photo courtesy Sunshine’s BarThe delicious but deadly Killer Bee, Sunshine’s trademark rum cocktail. Photo courtesy Sunshine’s BarSt Kitts & Nevis map

Imagine this: a sumptuous lobster lunch, served in the casual-chic surroundings of one of the world’s most renowned beach bars, with the blue waters of the Caribbean lapping gently on the sand a few feet away. Imagine, also, that this is happening on a tiny tropical island, a dot in the Eastern Caribbean that just happens to be breathtakingly beautiful, steeped in history, and a getaway of the rich and famous. Finally, imagine that this sun-kissed paradise without a single traffic light is blessed with an abundant source of affordable, squeaky-clean energy that generates so much electrical power it will probably be able to export what it doesn’t need to nearby St Kitts, the other half of a twin-island federation with a remarkable past and a future that couldn’t be more promising.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

Wrong.

Welcome to Sunshine’s Bar and Grill.

Welcome to Nevis.

Welcome to an island with a population of twelve thousand that’s on the verge of becoming “the greenest place on Earth.”

 

Let’s find out a little more about a man who took a few cases of chicken legs, a simple steel-drum barbecue, and some coolers of beer and turned them into one of the world’s most famous bars.

Llewellyn “Sunshine” Caines didn’t get where he is today by chance. He got there with hard work and dogged determination in the face of adversity that often looked insurmountable. Some of Sunshine’s early problems were courtesy of jealous rivals who made life difficult for him when he first tried to set up in business on a popular beach in St Kitts, the island where he was born. Others include devastating hurricanes and fires. “I have been blown away five times and burned down twice,” he says.

Sunshine, who acquired the name from his grandmother when he was born with a sunny smile lighting up his face, decided to give Nevis a try after being made unwelcome by rivals on St Kitts. Legend has it that a friend with a boat used to carry Sunshine and his food, drinks, and barbecue across The Narrows to Nevis every morning, and drop him off on Pinney’s Beach next to the ritzy Four Seasons Resort and scores of well-heeled patrons.

The legend’s only partly true. This was all happening in the mid-1980s, before the Four Seasons was built, and Sunshine used to rely on his friend with the boat to bring customers to his simple setup in front of where the resort now stands, with palm trees for shade and upturned beer crates for seats. Work started on the Four Seasons in the late 80s, with Sunshine catering to its hungry construction workers and making a permanent move to live in Nevis. A promising future beckoned, and Sunshine, an astute businessman as well as restaurateur, wasn’t about to drop the ball.

The Four Seasons opened in 1991, and Sunshine was more than happy to move his simple set-up a few dozen yards down the beach and wait for business from its wealthy guests. And wait he did. For a long, long time.

Says Sunshine, “At first, my place was only frequented by locals, as it was a very small, humble shack on the beach. I waited five long years to get my first Four Seasons guests ‘brave’ enough to venture off property and check out my place. I am still very good friends with these people today.”

Undeterred by the long wait for Four Seasons patrons, Sunshine had begun to slowly expand, adding a few picnic tables for his guests and then a thatched palm-leaf roof for better shade. This simple setting soon became a popular hangout for locals and tourists.

 

More than a quarter century since Sunshine served his first customers, Pinney’s Beach has changed dramatically, with upscale restaurants dotted along its miles of pristine white sand and more development on the way. And Sunshine’s, still with its local vibe and still serving simple but succulent food, has become the yardstick by which success on Pinney’s is measured.

Sunshine’s is also top of the island’s “must-visit” list, attracting scores of the celebrities for whom Nevis is the Caribbean getaway of choice. Asked to list the big names who’ve hung out at Sunshine’s, the still-modest proprietor pauses before reciting an off-the-cuff list of what he describes as “a few” of his celebrity customers: Oprah Winfrey, John Travolta, Sarah Jessica Parker, Edie Falco, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, Lady Sarah Ferguson, Julian Lennon, Wayne Gretzky, Kelly Ripa, Michael Strahan, Regis Philbin, Beyoncé and Jay Z, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mel Gibson, the Reverend Al Sharpton, Eddie Murphy, Steve Croft, the late Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, Britney Spears, Roger Daltrey, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, Bob Saget, Meryl Streep, Michelle Pfeiffer, and even Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Sunshine, after his experiences with hurricanes and fires, maintains he doesn’t believe in anything “fancy” when it comes to beach bars, but there’s no question that the latest incarnation of Sunshine’s is the biggest and best yet, with a recently introduced and instantly popular outdoor circular bar and a handful of comfortable and cosy private dining booths added to the eclectic mix, vividly painted in Sunshine’s trademark red, gold, and green.

Sunshine’s other trademark is a lethal rum-based cocktail called the Killer Bee, the ingredients of which are on the highly classified list and which, while quite delicious, is best enjoyed with a modicum of caution.

Sunshine’s location for the past few years has been the primo oceanfront spot among a cluster of popular beach bars and restaurants. And, of course, it’s still only a short stroll down the beach from the Four Seasons — whose guests quickly learn to savour, and respect, those rum cocktails.

 

Green Nevis

As well as being blessed with spectacular natural beauty, magnificent beaches, a benevolent climate, and tranquility that’s almost tangible, Nevis has a remarkable history that’s out of all proportion to its thirty-six-square-mile size. Alexander Hamilton, America’s first secretary of the treasury, was born here; Britain’s greatest naval hero, Horatio Nelson, was married here; it was one of the first Caribbean islands to grow sugar cane; and its stately Bath Hotel was the first hostelry in the region to cater to the comforts of well-heeled travelers. And now it’s poised to make history once again, this time with geothermal energy.

The island’s geothermal project is back on track after some financing snags, and Nevis’s deputy premier and tourism minister Mark Brantley says the target date for its electricity being in the Nevis grid is 2018. The geothermal plant’s objective is straightforward: to harness high-temperature steam rising from a large, inexhaustible geothermal reservoir below the island’s surface and turn it into electrical energy. The steam will be directed through a turbine that turns an electrical generator to produce that energy.

Says Brantley: “Geothermal energy would be revolutionary for our little island, weaning us entirely off fossil fuel for electricity generation and allowing us to meet our target of becoming the greenest place on planet Earth.

“Our tagline is ‘Nevis Naturally’, and geothermal energy will be a giant leap forward in us attracting global attention for our efforts to reduce carbon emissions and reduce our carbon footprint to zero. We also expect cheaper energy to bring spinoffs in economic activity with light industry, electric scooters, electric cars, and the like.

“Lastly, if the science holds true, Nevis has enough geothermal that it can satisfy all of its needs, its sister St Kitts’s needs, and still have power for export to neighbouring islands. This means that green energy becomes a critical industry for the island.”

Brantley is also confident that geothermal will be good for Nevis’s tourism industry. “We feel that this fits beautifully into Nevis’s image as a pristine, high-end destination dedicated to the preservation of our natural environment and developing responsibly and sustainably. Our model is high-end, low-environment-impact. We think it’s a narrative that the discerning traveller will appreciate and gravitate to.”

Geothermal has an impressive array of advantages over other known sources of energy. Most important, it’s much more efficient than diesel, the costly imported source of generating electrical power for just about all of the Caribbean, and it doesn’t billow greenhouse gases into the air.

 

Caribbean Airlines operates regular flights to V.C. Bird International Airport in Antigua and Princess Juliana International Airport in Sint Maarten, with connections on other airlines to Vance W. Amory International Airport in Nevis