St Elizabeth’s treasure: THE HENZELL SIBLINGS

by Apr 28, 2022People

Building on two generations of work that’s made Treasure Beach world famous, the Henzell siblings, Jason and Justine, have even bigger plans as they continue to create — as film-maker Justine puts it — “experiences that really bring pleasure to people’s lives”.

Their list of projects includes adding, over the next decade, 15 more villas to the very eclectic Jakes Hotel brand; working with the Government in this financial year to transform a private aerodrome into a public use entity that will bring even more tourists into St Elizabeth; and finally moving ahead, sometime this year, to open a franchise of the popular Treasure Beach eatery, Jack Sprat Restaurant, at 10A West Kings House. In June there will also be events staged at 10A, as well as in the UK, to mark the 50th anniversary of their father Perry Henzell’s iconic movie, The Harder They Come.

Justine Henzell beside a poster of her father Perry Henzell’s iconic film, The Harder They Come.

“This is a very, very important year for us as a family,” is how Jason described it all to the Jamaica Observer’s

For now, he has his hands full with a project that’s only a few days away. On April 30 it will be time, once again, for the annual Jakes Offroad Triathlon (the longest-running event of its kind in the world, Justine points out). Not for the faint of heart, it consists of a 300-metre ocean swim, 25K bike ride and 7K trail run. The triathlon has a laid-back feel to it, much like life in Treasure Beach itself, but it’s actually a purpose-driven event. Funds raised go towards BREDS, a not-for-profit charitable foundation Jason launched in the late 90s and which has spearheaded several sports-themed projects in the parish over the years.

Justine is also busy planning another Treasure Beach staple. On May 2023 there will be the long-awaited return of Calabash, one of the world’s foremost literary events that’s been on a COVID-19-forced hiatus. By next January there has to be a solid plan in place and all the sponsorship tied down as Treasure Beach gets ready to welcome, from all across the globe, wordsmiths and those who love their work. First staged about 20 years ago after Justine asked her brother if she and her friends — literary luminaries Kwame Dawes and Colin Channer — could “borrow the hotel” for a few days, the free to attend event brings an influx of thousands of guests to Treasure Beach. It’s a huge boost to the local community which provides everything from rooms to meals, all at prices that can meet any budget.

There’s also a Calabash link to the project that’s keeping Justine busy these days. She’s part of the local production services company working on the HBO crime drama series, Get Millie Black, that’s being shot in Kingston. It’s based on a novel penned by Jamaican-born author Marlon James whose roots can be traced directly back to the literary festival.

“Marlon was a very early recipient of the Calabash Writers Workshop. And actually this short story that the HBO series is based on was written by him for a Calabash anthology,” Justine explained.

Having a story that takes place in Jamaica filmed on the island is important for audiences these days, she said, as it adds a certain level of authenticity.

“The fact that we are doing the first series in a while augers really well. We haven’t had international film come in any meaningful way since Bond, and that was pre-COVID. So I feel like there’s gonna be a lot of projects coming after this one. We’re kind of paving the way, like [saying], ‘Okay, we’re back. We’re open for business again, come on down.’ And I have a feeling that we’re going to see a lot of film production and TV production coming into the island over the next two years and that is great for everybody,” she said.

Dougie’s Bar is a popular hang out.

The concept of the wider community benefitting is something that’s always been important for the Henzell family and it’s a lesson the siblings have not forgotten. 

“A rising tide lifts all boats and we really, really believe that. We don’t believe that Jakes can be successful if the community of Treasure Beach is not successful. The two things go hand in hand,” Justine added.

Read on for more about the work being done by the Henzell siblings and why Jason likens the role the family is playing to the work done by the State’s business promotional arm, Jampro. In addition to building and operating its own properties, your family has also branched out into offering management services for other owners. Tell us about how that evolved and how it’s going.

Jason: We manage five villas that are not our own. Most of them are owned by Jamaican families, which is something we’re very proud of. And every single one of them has been because they stayed at Jakes and fell in love with the community and said, ‘Can you help us to find a piece of land?’

We have helped many people find land. We like to term it as a passive investment in that we’re not looking for speculators. We’re looking for people who are going to come and enjoy their villas with their friends and family, and put a tremendous amount of value on that. But I’m happy to say every one of our villas makes money, they cover their costs and they make profit.

And we will continue to do that.

We have some very interesting owners. One of them, Kevin McDonald, is a huge film director. He’s done a lot of tremendous work, including the latest Bob Marley documentary, and the one on Whitney Houston.

We have a family from Nashville, Tennessee, and their house is full of incredible art from singers from Nashville. So we continue to thread the needle with arts and creativity. And those are the people who are really attracted to us. You could almost consider Jakes as a mini Jampro. We’re focused on Treasure Beach and its environs and just [for] it to be the best version of itself. When you look at what Floyd has done with Pelican Bar and what Blackie has done with Little Ochi, these are our local heroes, honestly. What they have done is unbelievable. And we see ourselves as very much partners with them in where we know this is going.

Jason Henzell at Jakes in Treasure Beach


LTC: Explain the plans for the Lionel Densham aerodrome and what it will mean for St Elizabeth.

Jason: The upgrade of the aerodrome is what you call a reverse divestment where we have offered the land to the Government, in return for them doing the upgrade and making it into a public facility. We opened this airstrip in 2010. We’re getting upwards of 150 flights a year. We really see that it’s going to play a pivotal role in the sustainable growth of Treasure Beach.

It has been approved by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Transport and we are hoping that in this financial year, 2022/2023, this project will come to fruition. It’s something we’re very excited about.

We want the Government to come in as partners and for it to be under Civil Aviation Authority and all the protocols that they have, the Airports Authority of Jamaica, so that all the safety protocols will be there, the security protocols will be there. And that we can basically, as a collective of Treasure Beach and the Pedro Plains, market the airstrip for more visitors to use.

It takes only 18 minutes to go between Montego Bay and the Lionel Densham aerodrome. So in terms of attracting the high end of the market, we think that’s very important. The reality is, by being a low-density, popular destination, land prices have gone up significantly, which means that people buying and building at today’s prices basically have to go up market. So how can we attract people who’re going to be spending US$800 to US$1,000 a night to rent a villa? Those are the kind of people who will come [if the publicly operated airport is there].

A lot of the same type of guests who would enjoy Treasure Beach may also enjoy Port Antonio. Upgrading the airstrip will allow us to do things like that: do a dual destination [with Port Antonio] or with Oracabessa, particularly with Golden Eye right there.

Having said that we are very, very proud to know that Treasure Beach attracts people with every type of budgets, and that a lot of the bed and breakfast properties are doing extremely well.

The calmness of this ocean blue room makes slumber an exquisite experience.


LTC: The Treasure Beach story is well known and littered with names such as renowned record producer and lover of all things Jamaica, Chris Blackwell, and the Lonely Planet travel guide whose articles introduced the community to a whole new market. From where you sit, what has the experience been like?

Justine:  The wonderful thing about Jakes is how organic the growth has been. It has really evolved. Our mother had this vision of just having a little cottage by the sea. That was it. And then people came and she built and she built and she built and slowly it evolved, and slowly it expanded.

And then Jason joined her and he is so community minded that it was obvious that he needed to form a foundation that was able to do all the things that he wanted to do for the wider community.

BREDS has raised a tremendous amount of money from philanthropic organisations and the support for social change programmes has been incredible. For this little community of Treasure Beach to have the sports park that it does has been a huge, huge benefit. And we are going to see that pay off in generations to come, that’s for sure.

The fact that the fishermen, that were not able to get a catch the way they used to, have been able to pivot to taking tourists out to Pelican Bar, up the Black River; the fact that tourism has been able to assist and help people to find other forms of sustainable income is fantastic.

We’re very fortunate in that we love what we do. We help create experiences, whether those are experiences of people coming and sitting at Jakes by the pool, having a Dougie’s Rum Punch and watching the sunset, or in our other side, which is film and the creative arts. Listening to somebody read a poem under the Calabash tent, or watch a film that was produced, have a great meal at Jack Sprat, we’re all about creating experiences that really bring pleasure to people’s lives. And we plan to be doing that for a long time to come.


 LTC: What role do you see the next generation, your children, playing in the family business?

Justine: Between us we have four children; they’re all very proudly Jamaican. They’re very patriotic. They’re creative in their own ways. And we have no doubt they’re going to do their part to contribute to the story and continue to build on the legacy.

Jason: Our children will be the fourth generation… because it started with our grandparents in 1941, when they built a cottage on Calabash Bay, and then, of course, our mother started Jakes as a restaurant, and then Justine and I taking over the reins. Our four kids will all play a significant role. I’m absolutely sure about that. They gloat about Jakes and they love to bring their friends here. I hope my son will go to hotel school, but who knows? We don’t know to what extent the role that they will play because the world is their oyster at this point.


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