Chat N’ Chill
A Beach Bar Story
As the water taxi from Great Exuma bobbed within 15 feet of Stocking Island’s dock, 10 passengers craned their necks in search of the island’s famous sign. With the Internet making the world so small, nearly everyone on the boat had read about the symbol that serves as this tiny island’s major landmark. Once the wide-eyed passengers stepped ashore, they couldn’t miss the handcrafted 15-foot Chat N’ Chill tower. Like a Caribbean version of the Statue of Liberty, this sign was all about the pursuit of happiness.
Since 1998, vacationers from around the globe have ventured to Stocking Island for one reason. On a Sunday in November, 10 people hailing from the Netherlands, Minnesota, and Great Britain arrived to experience the magic of KB Bowe’s Chat N’ Chill Beach Bar.
At 2:00 in the afternoon, there were already 50 revelers, picnickers, swimmers, boaters, and minglers in various stages of bliss. These strangers-turned-acquaintances co-existed like old friends, just as the 65-year-old Bowe imagined when he purchased nine acres and 1600-feet of pristine beachfront on unspoiled Stocking Island in the early 80s.
You can search the world over and not find another beach bar owner with the education, business experience, high-octane entrepreneurial mind, and personal story that compares to Bowe. Want proof? How many beach bar owners own an MBA in Economics from the University of Chicago, and previously succeeded in businesses ranging from banking, hotel management, and raising goats.
The first thing that jumps out at Bowe’s first-time guests is the far-reaching and eclectic mix of people who share island time. Bowe will tell you that this harmony among continents and classes is no accident.
“People cherish their one or two weeks off per year. When they go on vacation and come to the Bahamas, they’re seeking an authentic island experience. They’re looking to make a memory. That’s what they discover here at Chat N’ Chill,” Bowe said.
Most of Bowe’s daily clientele arrive by ferry from Great Exuma, the Bahamas Out Island in which Bowe was born and raised. The rest are curious boaters who anchored along Stocking Island because they had heard of Chat N’ Chill via word-of-mouth. In the early days of beach bar ownership, Bowe grilled the boating crowd as to what they were searching for when they docked their boats and needed to recharge. Today, this early market research is paying major dividends for this personable father of five.
In swimsuits, sunglasses, and flip flops it’s difficult to know whether the person you’re hoisting a Kalik beer with earns an hourly wage or sits on the Board of Directors for a Fortune 500 corporation. This refreshing lack of pretense is by design and just the way Bowe and his legion of admirers like it. “On a fairly regular basis I speak with CEOs, millionaires, and even billionaires who share that they just feel normal here. They tell me not to change a thing,” Bowe confided.
Not changing a thing means Bowe’s beach bar maintains a rustic quality that you won’t find at Five-Star resorts. It also means a menu of freshly grilled food that is in direct response to Bowe quizzing his female customers. “We learned that if the guys want to spend any length of time here, our food needs to be healthy and grilled, not fried. The ladies also told us that our Chat N’ Chill restrooms are the finest of any beach bar in the Caribbean. Feedback from our female customers is critical to our success,” Bowe said.
On one side of the Chat N’ Chill is a new gift shop. Roughly 80 paces down the beach is another revenue stream in the form of a shack serving fresh conch salad. The conch shack is just 15 feet from the Caribbean Sea. In the shallow turquoise water one can’t help but notice a couple of imposing looking jet-black hovercraft that seems to be nibbling on conch leftovers.
It turns out these large, but genteel creatures, are actually the most people-friendly stingrays you’d ever hope to meet. These whip-tailed socialites like nothing better than to smooch vacationers’ ankles. It seems at every turn, Bowe’s laid-back business paradise is not without surprises.
The centerpiece of Bowe’s island masterpiece is “the sign.” Standing like a beacon in the middle of Chat’s N’ Chill’s beach you’ll find no less than 30 wood placards nailed on a single vertical post. The placards reveal the hometowns of Chat N’ Chill loyalists who’ve graced Stocking Island before you. The cities range from Glasgow, Normandy, Louisville, and all points in between. Listen for even a moment to the giddy multi-lingual conversations going on and you’ll think Chat N’ Chill could be the answer to world peace.
“Ever since we opened for business, I’ve asked customers ‘Why?’” Why are they here? What are they looking for? The answer can be found on the nameplate above our bar’s entrance door. Chat N’ Chill. People come here to relax and have a good time. Chat and chill is a great brand,” Bowe said.
As he does 363 days per year, Bowe worked the crowd and listened as to how he could make this day memorable. A surgeon from Houston wrapped his arm around Bowe’s shoulder and said, “I needed something like Chat N’ Chill. This is special.” As the surgeon sauntered over to a picnic table where chattering friends were waiting with an ice cold Kalik, all the professor of beach bar economics could do is knowingly nod and smile.
Tim Cotroneo is a freelance writer specializing in Caribbean travel, business, and golf