Diane Phillips: Transforming an Eleuthera eyesore – a lesson for historic Nassau?


Diane Phillips

FOR 45 years, the single-storey stone building stood abandoned. Shards of glass were all that remained of what had been windows. Once the home of a local family, it slowly sank into a hideaway for rats and rodents, strewn with broken beer bottles and half-pints, blind to nefarious activity. The structure in total disrepair was not in some remote out of the way place, but in direct view of hundreds going and coming daily from Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera to Cupid’s Cay and beyond.

There it sat in its glaring, hideous state along a main thoroughfare on a Family Island where property values all around it have been rising faster than the temperature on an August morning.

But where others turned a blind eye, one woman had a vision. Her name is Katherine Johnson, the co-owner and operator of Buccaneer, likely the most beloved restaurant in all of Eleuthera. With her sister Michele and a loyal crew, Katherine runs a demanding 14-hour, six-day a week business, jostling between food and supply pick-up from dock, stores, nearby farms or fishing vessels, and the need to keep kitchen flowing, staff happy and customers coming back for more. Everyone who knows Buccaneer wonders how Katherine, Michele and the team do what they do - managing the busy restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner six days a week without interruption. In Governor’s Harbour in Central Eleuthera, Buccaneer is about as perfect a combination of bustling and laidback as you can get so you would think Katherine would have her hands full. Yet there was something about that abandoned rundown wreck of a homestead that kept nagging at her.



“My mother used to give me three loaves of bread on Saturdays and say ‘Carry these to Mrs Graham’ and I’d come right here,” says Katherine, standing in what will be the display, retail and indoor eating area of the now transformed building into what will open next month as The Bakery. There will be seating for up to 90 outdoors on a broad verandah with eye-catching stone flooring. Inside is an interior that combines touches from the past – a 100-year-old home sewing machine sits atop a wooden shelf still with the thread last used – with a look and feel of smart contemporary. The contrasts work – a sophisticated oversized wine chiller, tables crafted by a local carpenter. In fact, every aspect of the transformation except for appliances has been accomplished with local labour, materials and talent.

It has been two years of hard work, long hours, constant decisions, from overseeing the clean-up to start and re-imagining the end product so as never to give up. There was no detail that escaped the attention of the proprietor who also created a colourful, lively logo that pays homage to the Bahamian woman who with the basket of food on her head fed her family and with leftovers fed whoever needed it in the community.

“We’re still finding empty bottles on the property,” says Katherine, standing in front of a gleaming stainless steel commercial cooler that no doubt cost more than the whole building when it was originally constructed over 100 years ago. Now it will be the first large bakery serving Eleuthera, likely to make lifestyle and travel magazines for its uniqueness, charm and its before and after wow factor. Development, or re-development, that is, included creating an adorable short-term rental upstairs.

It’s a good bet that The Bakery will draw in visitors and locals from north to south who will make the drive for freshly baked breads, pastries and light snacks, cheeses and deli items along with a selection of fine wines, coffees and teas and specialty tastings for those who reserve the private space.

The transformation of one of Eleuthera’s worst eyesores into what is likely to become its newest hotspot need not be an isolated one-off. What happened when vision and determination transformed an abandoned, trashed homestead into a magazine-worthy bakery and eatery could happen anywhere. It is the shining example of what could breathe new life into historic Nassau, especially on Cumberland Street and Bay Street east of East Street. Yes, it took money. There was a silent partner. It took cooperation. The new business is benefitting from the incentives working exactly as they should through the Light Industries Encouragement Act. But mostly it took vision and hard work.

From glaring in ugliness to glowing in island charm, The Bakery shows what is possible when you begin with a dream and refuse to deny the message it delivers.


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