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@Work: Kings Court

Nov. 5, 2006 — Tucked away in the heart of downtown Christiansted is a small restaurant that has achieved a certain celebrity for more than its mouth-watering cuisine.
Kings Court, on King Street near Times Square, is where the whos who of St. Croix meet to eat and drink, patrons say. On any given day, customers include top business executives and government officials mingling comfortably with residents and tourists.
The atmosphere — an outdoor courtyard alive with color and energy — invites familiarity, with its potted palm trees swaying to gentle breezes. A large coconut tree, standing erect in its center, enhances the decor and makes for interesting conversation. Its large fronds open up and over the patio-style tables, supplementing the brightly striped umbrellas and creating extra shade for sunny days.
Anicetus "Cleat" LaCorbiniere and his wife, Orneth, opened the doors to Kings Court on Dec. 11, 2005. At that time, Orneth says, several coconut trees stood in the area, and they thought one would give a nice flair to the outdoor restaurant and indoor bar.
"We got rid of them and kept that one," she says.
The restaurant is a watering hole of sorts, both literally and figuratively. The indoor bar serves up mixed drinks for regulars who come in and discuss news events with Cleat, so named because of his former work as a marine surveyor and yacht captain.
In one corner of the restaurant stands another interesting part of the decor: a well, permanently covered.
"I understand the well served people for years," Orneth says.
While the coconut tree and the well may have been fixtures that had to be incorporated into the decor, the LaCorbinieres chose to create an outdoor restaurant.
"I like the openness," Orneth says. "The courtyard setting — theres something romantic about it. Ive always wanted a business with a courtyard where people gathered together."
As Orneth speaks, a group of local VIPs celebrate the birthday of former Police Capt. James Parris at Kings Court, including Police Chief Novelle Francis Jr.; Delegate Donna Christensen and her husband, Christian; former St. Croix administrator and lieutenant governor candidate Gregory Francis; Chief Public Defender Harold Willocks; former Health Deputy Commissioner Hubert L. Frederick; and Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin.
"Weve had a couple parties to cater, in addition to what we do here in the restaurant," Orneth says.
Kings Court boasts island specials each day of the week, Monday through Saturday. The menu includes stews, soups, shrimp, curried chicken, grilled pork chops in creole sauce, mahi mahi, saltfish with hot, crispy johnny cake squares, conch in lemon butter sauce, souse and potato salad. The restaurant focuses on seafood, especially freshly caught fish that arrives the day its served, smothered in a sizzling melange of green and red peppers and onions.
Rounding out the menu are BLT sandwiches, burgers, hot wings, golden French fries and other American fare.
The hearty entrees come with a choice of white or seasoned rice, macaroni and cheese, soft dumplings, fungi and ground provision such as green banana and sweet potato. Most dishes come with fried plantains, fresh green salad or cooked vegetables, and the desserts are rich and luscious. The bar sells beer and mixed drinks, along with plenty of thirst-quenching native drinks such as sorrel, lip-smacking fruity punch and the heady and exhilarating ginger beer.
Cleat and Orneth are not new to the restaurant business — nor to successful business ventures.
The couple manages Kellys Cleaning service and dabbles in real estate. After buying the property in 2004, they undertook a major renovation of Nos. 16 and 17 King Street, the official address of Kings Court. Two years later, they had transformed the dilapidated buildings, which Hurricane Hugo had destroyed in 1989. It became a downtown business center with office suites available for rental, and with conference rooms to accommodate up to 50 people. The restaurant fit right in — in the courtyard.
From 1981 to 1986, the LaCorbinieres managed The Grill restaurant near the Water Gut area. Of all their ventures, they say, Kings Court has been the hardest. They both love sailing, and would sail for months at a time if they could afford to do so.
"We are working harder than when we were young," Orneth says, minutes after her husband made similar comments. "If I could, I would just sell it and go sailing."
Orneth expresses a frustration shared by many St. Croix business people, especially those in Christiansted, whose businesses have not fared well with the declining economy that resulted from Hugos devastation 17 years ago.
"Its just slow," Orneth says. "The whole of Christiansted is slow. Its like its dead and buried."
Still, she says, they are staying put and plan to bring back entertainment, which had been a fixture at Kings Court on Fridays. The duo Tony Romano and Ken will play calypso and romantic tunes from 7 to 11 p.m. on Fridays, Orneth says. Although earlier attempts to draw customers at night did not work, she says, Orneth is willing to try again.
"Thats the nature of business," she says. "What works is perseverance. You have to hang in there and make it work. If its a 12-hour business, you have to work 12 hours. If its a 24-hour business, youve got to work 24 hours."
Beyond working hard, she offers one other piece of advice to anyone trying to make a business successful.
"Advertise, advertise, advertise!" Orneth says. "Word of mouth is good, but you still must advertise. You have to tell people why you should be their choice."
To reach Kings Court, call 713-0553.
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