We spoke with Pamela and John Solomon who left New York to open a restaurant in Placencia, Belize. We first met Pam and John years ago during one of our many trips to Placencia. Their award-winning restaurant, Rumfish y Vino, has been mentioned in several publications like the Condé Nast Traveler magazine and Forbes. In this interview, Pamela shared some of the differences between setting up a business in the US and Belize – and how moving to Belize has afforded her daughter a unique life.
Wrobel & Co: Thank you, Pamela, for chatting with us today. First question! Describe Rumfish y Vino in 3 words.
Pamela Solomon: RUM, FISH and WINE!
W & C: When did you move to Belize and why did you choose to move here?
Pamela: In 2008 we were on our honeymoon, and found the vacant space randomly. We made a deal on the spot and moved down 8 weeks later to open the restaurant.
W & C: What gave you the idea to start Rumfish y Vino? What was the process like for setting up the business in Belize?
Pamela: We were trying to open a restaurant in the States but we ran into several roadblocks. The opportunity in Belize came out of left field, but we happened to know the owner through mutual friends. It all was a bit of “kismet”. We were miserable in our jobs living in New York City. A total grind! The idea of living in paradise doing what we love was too hard to pass up. I had been coming to Belize for years and had always thought of moving here. But the right opportunity never presented itself. That’s because I was meant to do it with my husband! And eventually, start a family in Belize as well.
W & C: What have been the challenges you faced in getting the restaurant off the ground?
Pamela: I’ll admit we had help from the owner, so the initial set-up was essentially done for us. We had help with establishing all of the business entities and such. But in hindsight, the country is funny. It makes simple processes seem very complicated, until you’ve gotten through it. Then you’re thinking well, that was really simple! Why did I have to take the long way!!
I think the Belize government likes to make us expats squirm a little to make sure we really want to be there. It’s a test! It’s always good to use the service of someone who has walked the walk on things that seem daunting. It really shortens the learning curve in what can appear to be very confusing and is actually very straight-forward.
W & C: Can you name an example of a simple process made more complicated than it had to be?
Pamela: Oh there are so many. The stories we can tell. Sadly, I’ve blocked most of them out! Things like trying to renew our passports–being told we had to go to Belmopan, the capital two hours away and schedule an appointment with the embassy weeks out and that it was going to take weeks to get them back and maybe not before our scheduled flights… Only to find out that a consulate was coming to Placencia and would be simply able to process the applications from there and have them back in 72 hours. Or that we needed to register a car and drive all the way to Dangriga to the transport office, only to be told that they come every Tuesday to the village for the same services…
W & C: Please, describe where you’re from and what you did before you moved to Belize.
Pamela: John and I met in Los Angeles where I lived for 13 years. He was in restaurant management and I worked in marketing for a wine and spirits company. We moved to New York City the year before we had a restaurant project with partners we were working on there. We hated it. Right before our wedding, we hit a major roadblock that really set us all back. Then we went to Belize, and it all made sense!
W & C: What are the major differences between opening up a business in the US versus doing that in Belize?
Pamela: It’s actually easier in Belize, now that we have a second location in California. I thought California would be easier, but there are many more hoops! Like I said, Belize was straight-forward and you can understand why they make it seem challenging: to weed out the faint of heart, and people who may just want to take advantage. But in California, they make it so complicated and challenging and for small businesses to get up and running. With all of the regulations, sometimes you feel more like a lawyer than a restauranteur.
W & C: So you live in California and travel to Belize six times a year! That seems like a lot of travel and you must have a ton of miles! What’s it like to travel to Belize back and forth?
Pamela: We opened another Rumfish y Vino in California about 2 years ago. We decided that we wanted to expand and, although we miss being in Belize full-time, it was time to be closer to family for our daughter’s sake. As an only child, I felt she should be nearer to her cousins whom are her age. We love going back and forth. I would say that we are down in Belize every 8-10 weeks. John goes more often, and my daughter and I take advantage of all school holidays to go down. The good thing is that all of the holidays are when we’re the busiest down there since that’s when everyone else travels. So we’re there for the peaks. The school here has been very supportive. And I helped found an awesome school in Placencia (PIA) years ago, so we still have the ability for my daughter to attend school while in Placencia if we’re missing school in the States. It’s offering her a very enriched life and she gets to see all the friends she’s known since she was a baby.
Residency status helps with the back and forth. It’s worth it to stay the 50 consecutive weeks needed to get residency. Now, when we arrive at the international airport, we cruise right through the citizen line. The process for work permits and residency status was not an easy one. It takes a lot of patience and should be addressed immediately if you plan to open a business. It’s just a long and can be frustrating process. My advice is do it the proper way. Don’t let “expediters” convince you they can get it completed faster for you. No matter what, the office that handles these matters will take the same amount of time one way or another and you will be out-of-pocket. Having someone like Ryan Wrobel to assist with paperwork may be a good idea. But don’t believe the people who say they can get it done in a few short weeks.
W & C: Why did you choose to live in Placencia, Belize? Why should people who are interested in moving to Belize choose Placencia?
Pamela: As I mentioned, I had been visiting Belize for several years. I had family and friends who owned a resort on Ambergris Caye, El Pescador. I love San Pedro, but coming from New York City, it was a bit too busy for me. The hustle and bustle of town intimidated me a little! So when I chose our honeymoon spot, I wanted to visit the “little sleepy fishing village” I had always heard about. Francis Ford Coppola’s Turtle Inn Resort in Placencia sounded interesting to me since we were in the wine business and from Los Angeles. We loved the resort and actually did not even leave.
Our friends (and our original business partners from the New York project that never came to be) were with us on our honeymoon, and they were the first ones to see the location in Placencia as the sort of place they had in mind of where we should open up a restaurant. They begged and begged us to go and see it and we firmly said no; we wanted to just chill after our wedding and no business!!! Finally they kidnapped us on the way to the airstrip to visit the location in the village. We fell in love instantly with the sweet colonial style, the colorful buildings, and the sleepy town vibe. This is where we built Rumfish y Vino.
W & C: Favorite drink in Belize?
Pamela: Rum punch of course!
W & C: Favorite animal in Belize?
W & C: Favorite time in Belize and why?
Pamela: October, unless there’s rain. It’s super quiet, waters are clear and calm, and no one knows! I know that sounds weird.
W & C: Where is your favorite place in Belize?
Pamela: My front “yard” on the beach in Cocoplum.
W & C: Where can people go to learn more about you and what you do?
Pamela: We have a Youtube episode of a series called, “Expats” that you can see us and our life from some years ago!
You can also check out our menu at our website at www.rumfishyvino.com
W & C: What should people expect when they visit Rumfish and Vino? Can you recommend a dish and a drink?
Pamela: We have excellent handcrafted cocktails! And the Belize Tourism Board named us restaurant of the year last October. Everyone must try our Lionfish Crudo. Lionfish are endangering the sea, so we must eat them to eradicate them as they have no known predators!
W & C: Can you elaborate on your interactions with Wrobel & Co., and more specifically, our managing partner Ryan Wrobel? Do you feel that our office has anything to offer your clients/guests?
Pamela: The time it takes to learn how to navigate in Belize for purchasing property or business services is not worth it! Ryan can expedite all of those services and is the most knowledgeable person I know in the country for these kinds of matters.
Ryan has always been there for us to answer questions and offer guidance from real estate to business transactions. He takes the sting out of what can be arduous so you can focus on everything else!
W & C: What are some of the amazing things living in Belize has afforded you?
Pamela: A unique life for ourselves and our daughter. She was born and raised in Belize, she is quite a little person because of it! She was literally raised by a Mayan family who helped us run the restaurant.
To this day, they are all so close and love each other. Traveling to Mexico, Guatemala and throughout the country of Belize has been amazing. The blend of cultures in Belize is so amazing; you can toggle through different languages and cultures in minutes! And of course, our staff at the restaurant who have all been with us for years are so special to us. They are our family, too.
Interested in retiring or relocating in Belize like Pamela and John did? Contact Wrobel & Co, Attorneys-at-Law, and we’ll get you started on your Belize retirement or relocation journey today.
To learn more about retirement in Belize, visit our Belize Retirement FAQ page here.
This information was provided as a courtesy of Wrobel & Co. Attorneys-at-law. It is intended to inform, not to advise. No one should try to interpret or apply any law without the assistance of legal counsel. Please click here for the full disclaimer.