Mobile food vendors selling everything from kallaloo to fracos have long been popular in the Virgin Islands. In the islands and on the mainland, there’s been a growing trend for food trucks to offer more upscale and exotic fare.
Now a group of young entrepreneurs from St. John is taking the concept one step further by opening up a “food boat” anchored in a bay on St. John’s remote East End.
The Lime Out – essentially a small houseboat painted lime green – was towed out to its mooring in Round Bay on Tuesday, and staff began serving craft cocktails and gourmet tacos to customers who approached by boat, kayak, or float. Asked how the first day of business went, co-owner Richard Baranowski responded with a grin and a cheerful, “Best day ever!”
The Lime Out is the brainchild of three men who were raised on St. John and grew up sailing, diving, swimming, and boating in its waters. As they pursued these activities as adults, they realized that charter boats out on day trips and boaters anchored on the East End have virtually no place to get a bite to eat for miles.
They couldn’t help but notice the success of PiZZA Pi, a boat anchored at Christmas Cove near the east end of St. Thomas, that has served more than 7,000 pizzas in its three years in business.
The three friends, Richard Baranowski, Dane Tarr, and Dylan Buchalter, began planning out how they might bring the concept to St. John. They started with a huge advantage: Baranowski and his wife Chelsea now own the Lime Inn, a popular Cruz Bay restaurant that was launched by Chelsea’s parents, Rich and Chris Meyer, in the mid -1980’s.
The Lime Inn now serves as the base of operations for the Lime Out. That’s where all the food is prepared and where the serving dishes are returned to be washed.
The Lime Out owners are deeply aware of how sensitive the environment is at their outlying location and have taken every step they could imagine to assure that the pristine water where they’re moored is not compromised. Their mooring permit (coincidentally at Limetree Cove) is granted on a month-to-month basis, so they have to be mindful of following regulations and co-existing with the community.
The 39-foot by 16-foot houseboat is solar-powered; food is served in biodegradable containers; drinks are served in reusable cups; and all waste is kept aboard until it can be transported back to Cruz Bay.
However, the owners may not have counted on how sensitive the property owners at the East End would be about a floating food service operating in their neighborhood.
When the Lime Out tested out the waters a week before opening, they began to get blowback from residents who feared the worst. In response, Baranowski, Tarr, and Buchalter called a community meeting in Coral Bay for the evening of March 11 and faced a crowd of almost 30 residents. Many who attended were supportive, some were undecided, and several promised to do whatever they could to close down the business.
Because of rowdy behavior on some other floating bars, residents felt some cause for alarm. For several decades the William Thornton, a floating bar located on nearby Norman Island, had served as a mecca for partygoers arriving by boat. The Willy T, as it was commonly known, offered women a free T-shirt if they would jump topless from the mast, and the loud music and drunken revelry went on throughout the night, causing boaters seeking peace and solitude to head elsewhere.
The Willy T sank during the storms of 2017, and when a new boat was built as a replacement, the owner of Norman Island forced the boat to find another anchorage. It is now located at Peter Island.
Closer to home, Angel’s Rest, a small yellow houseboat that plied the waters in Coral Bay and the East End of St. John, served as a bar and a party hangout for several years until it, too, was destroyed by Hurricane Irma.
Baranowski and Tarr, who did most of the talking during the meeting, tried to assure meeting goers that they were an entirely different kind of operation.
“We knew there would be some opposition, and we’re open to hearing your concerns,” said Tarr.
“We want to promise you this will not be the Willy T,” said Baranowski.
Unlike the Willy T or Angel’s Rest, the Lime Out will only be open from 11:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. from Tuesday through Sunday, and customers will not be allowed to board the vessel. They can take their purchases back to their own boat, or eat at the water-level bar as they float in the water.
Residents worried about sewage were assured that the camping toilet on board will be used by staff only and will be removed and emptied at the owners’ homes at the end of the day.
Music will be kept soft, and any boaters who raft up to buy tacos and drinks are asked to turn off their own sound systems. The Lime Out owners have been in contact with all the local charter companies, asking them to approach the vessel slowly and be especially considerate of swimmers who regularly swim in Round Bay.
For safety reasons, swimmers who set out from shore will be not be served in case they are not in shape to swim back. The shoreline property is all owned privately, and at least one property owner is renting out kayaks and paddleboards to provide access to the vessel.
During the first week, customers registered their approval on social media, praising the creative cuisine and friendly atmosphere. Tarr, Baranowski and Buchalter invited those attending last Tuesday’s meeting to come out and sample their fare.
“We’ve put our hearts and souls into this effort,” said Tarr, turning to some of the skeptics. “You might even consider us an asset.”