Donald Grizzle’s leap of faith

by Sep 30, 2021People

In 1975, at the age of 42, Donald Grizzle decided to take a leap of faith and become a hotelier. It didn’t take long for the former farmer to fall completely in love with the beauty of Jamaica’s tourism product.

Grizzle’s introduction to the sector was through a restaurant he and his late wife, Sylvie, owned. Called Café au Lait, it was located on Negril’s popular West End. It featured French-Jamaican cuisine, a nod to Sophie’s French roots.

Donald Grizzle

As the couple’s first venture grew they were sometimes joined by notable visitors who would travel from afar just to dine at Café au Lait. One of Grizzle’s most memorable dinner guests was the late Pierre Trudeau, former prime minister of Canada.

“He was staying at a nearby resort and, on New Year’s Day, he came to the restaurant; it was exciting. It was really an evening to remember. One of the things I was so impressed with was how he was like an ordinary man, very easy to talk to. He was a very nice and charming gentleman,” recalls Grizzle.

“We only had 12 tables [at the restaurant] at that time and, after that, every Canadian in Negril wanted to sit at Trudeau’s table. In the end, all 12 tables became the table he dined at,” Grizzle says with a chuckle. 

He and his wife’s love for tourism didn’t stop there. They went on to purchase the Charela Inn Hotel in 1980, five years after it was built.

“We used to close [Café au Lait] on Thursdays. That would be our day off. So we would come to spend the day on the beach at Charela Inn. We loved the property, the way it was shaped and everything about it. So when it came up on the market, we decided to make a bid for it and we got it,” Grizzle says.

“I liked that it was like a square piece of land overlooking the sea. The length and the width are the same size, so it gave the property an exquisite look,” he adds.

They closed Café au Lait to focus on the inn and Grizzle found a way to blend his newfound love for tourism and hospitality with his first love — agriculture. His decision to incorporate farming into the daily operations of his hotel was an easy one.

Charela Inn

“I am a farmer, so we grow some of the produce that we use at the hotel. I wish we could grow all of it but, for right now, we [provide] some of the lamb, all the goat that we sell here. All the beef burgers, stewed beef, and beef in wine, that is our beef. The expensive steak, we can never do it enough so that we import. But, all the other beef we produce here. We use mangoes from the farm, eggs from the farm, and some vegetables, because we cannot do all the vegetables [needed],” he tells

Though Sylvie passed away in 2018, Grizzle and his daughter Sophie have kept her spirit alive at the hotel.

“Her presence is still here, and she is still felt in the hotel. She is very much a part of what Charela Inn is. In the restaurant we still do a French-Jamaican fusion, and you see a lot of her influence in the dishes that we serve here,” he says.

View from one of the rooms of Charela Inn.

Grizzle’s steady progress with making Charela Inn an established name in the hotel industry and his wider impact on Jamaica’s tourism product have not gone unnoticed. On August 6 he joined the Officer rank of Members of the Order of Distinction (OD) in recognition of his years of service to the tourism sector, especially in the promotion of Negril as a tourism destination. It’s just the latest among a long list (see below) of well-deserved accolades.

“If you enjoy what you’re doing, you just keep going. I enjoy creating things. We started off with 10 bedrooms and we are now at 59. We had an overall plan of what we wanted but we couldn’t afford to do it all at once. So, over the years, we just developed into what we had envisioned from the beginning,” says a contented Grizzle.

Grizzle’s impact on nation building

1980 – Present:
Chairman, Charela Inn Ltd

1984 – 1987:
Director, Jamaica Tourist Board

1986 – 1991:
President, Negril Chamber of Commerce

1988 –1989:       
Managing Director, Copperwood Ltd

1998 – 2001:
Director, Tourism Product Development Company  

Governor General’s Achievement Award for the county of Cornwall

Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association Lifetime Achievement Award

2009 – 2011:
Advisor to the Minister, Ministry of Tourism Advisory Board 

2018 – 2019:
President, Negril Chamber of Commerce

Awarded Order of Distinction for work in the tourism sector.


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