Jimmie & Sook's Expands to Central America
Jun 27, 2014 10:40AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
The iconic Wet Willie’s restaurant stands on a dock over the water in San Pedro, Belize. The restaurant has been purchased by the same couple who owns Jimmie & Sook’s in Cambridge—it is slated to become a second Jimmie & Sook’s in the coming months.
The story of how a popular Eastern Shore restaurant ended up opening a second location on a far-off island in Central America starts in nearby Seaford and Easton.
That’s where the husband-and-wife team of Amanda Bramble and Tim Wright first started looking for a place to launch a second Jimmie & Sook’s Raw Bar and Grill. Bramble opened the initial restaurant five years ago in downtown Cambridge, and it was a rousing success right out of the gate. Bramble even landed on national television in 2010, being hailed by NBC newsman Tom Brokaw as a model for a new breed of entrepreneurs in the 21st century.
“We were going to stay in the area at first,” Bramble says, “but then we got to thinking about how maybe we didn’t want all of our customers from places like Seaford or Easton to stop coming to Cambridge and supporting our restaurant and all the other cool businesses downtown.”
The more they thought it through, the more Bramble and Wright saw that this way of looking at things freed them to look pretty much anywhere in the world. The first “far-away” place they considered was Rehoboth Beach.
The game-changer came when a friend of a friend who suggested they take a look at San Pedro, Belize. With a population of 13,000, it’s the biggest town on Ambergris Caye (pronounced am-BUR-gris KEY), an island in the Caribbean that’s 2.5 miles long and one mile wide.
“The clincher for me came when Tim and I were in a kayak out over the reef, and there were all these blue crabs swimming right under the kayak,” Bramble says. “They looked almost exactly like our crabs, and that to me was just a sign from the crab gods.”
As she got to know San Pedro, Bramble noted that the town was about the same size as Cambridge and had a similar mix of “come here” ex-pats and “from here” locals. Tourism is the top industry on Ambergris Caye today, but there are still plenty of local families who follow the age-old fishing traditions of the island.
“Belize was the only place we looked that just felt like home,” Bramble says. “I know it sounds crazy, but San Pedro is just like Cambridge, only with palm trees and clear water.”
Last month, Bramble and Wright moved to Belize and closed on their purchase of a functioning restaurant in San Pedro called Wet Willie’s. An iconic destination on Ambergris Key, the thatched roof facility of 3,000 square feet sits directly over the sea on the largest dock in the city. It offers indoor and outdoor dining with spectacular views of the Mesoamerican Reef.
In fact, the restaurant has a lighting system that illuminates the underwater area around the restaurant at night, so that guests can admire the sea life as it swims through.
“Once we get settled in and running things, we’re hoping to add snorkeling and kayak rentals and become even more of a destination,” Bramble says.
For the moment, Bramble and Wright are running Wet Willie’s under its current name to get a feel for the place and its staff. As they grow more comfortable, they will start to take steps to transform the place into a second Jimmie & Sook’s.
Their vision for the long term is pretty much the same one Bramble started out with back in 2009. She and Wright are aiming to create a second restaurant that serves as a downhome showcase for the culinary and hospitality traditions of Dorchester County and the Eastern Shore—only this one will be 1,600 miles from home.
Back home, the original Jimmie & Sook’s is operating under the leadership of a new manager, Chris Kelso. Since his arrival, the restaurant has introduced a revised menu featuring 16 new dishes on top of the restaurant’s long-standing collection of Eastern Shore favorites. In addition, the Cambridge restaurant has launched a raffle in which one lucky local customer will win a trip for two to Belize (see sidebar).
Win a trip to Belize at Jimmie & Sook’s
In celebration of opening their second restaurant in Belize, Jimmie & Sook’s Raw Bar and Grill is raffling off a trip for two to that Central American country. The prize, which includes airfare, lodging, and food at the new restaurant, will be awarded in January 2015.
Between now and then, customers will get a chance to enter the contest when they receive a receipt for their lunch or dinner at the restaurant, which is located in downtown Cambridge. The more times you dine at Jimmie & Sook’s, the more contest entries you’ll get to submit.
Located at 527 Poplar Street in Cambridge, Jimmie & Sook’s is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner.