Real Good People: Tommy Nolan & Candice Hopkins-Nolan
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What’s Cooking In The BVI with Tommy Nolan & Candice Hopkins-Nolan

This husband and wife duo shares an appetite for good food, great hospitality and island living.

Anyone who’s spent a winter or two in New York City can appreciate what chef Tommy Nolan was thinking a little over six years ago: "I'm not doing another winter here. This is ridiculous." Whether it was the piercing winds gusting through skyscraper-lined avenues, perma-cold subway stations or the occasional 3rd degree burn caused by brushing up against an exposed radiator, this Texan was ready to trade the salted sidewalks for sandy beaches.

"I looked online and found a job on Craigslist at Caneel Bay in St. John [in the US Virgin Islands]. I moved within two weeks and haven’t looked back," he told us as he prepared a grilled mahi and jerk pineapple sandwich for lunch.

It was the kind of adventurous—slightly impetuous—leap of faith that someone working in the culinary world sometimes has to make to discover new flavors, broaden horizons and see what the world has to offer. Upon arriving in paradise, Tommy bounced around St. John, working as private chef and caterer, before landing a week-long stint at the luxurious Baraka Point Estate on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Island. One week led to another, and another, and eventually Tommy saw an opportunity. "I was like, ‘You know what? I could do this full-time.’ So I just shot them an email that said, ‘Hey, you guys looking for somebody full-time?’ They said, ‘Yeah.’ So I moved over here and have done that ever since."

Fast-forward two and a half years of living in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Life is great, but Tommy has come to realize one of the unexpected realities of calling an 8-square mile island home: "It's a very hard place to be a single guy," he told us. His plan: "I was like, ‘I'm going to go move to Nashville and find a wife.’ And I moved to Nashville and found a wife."

Enter Candice Hopkins, a native Tennessean who had never been to the Virgin Islands prior to meeting Tommy. After bonding over pizza and beer in Nashville, and getting married along the way, Tommy pined for a return to island life, and convinced Candice to join him on Virgin Gorda. On paper the move seemed amazing, but the reality of it presented a few challenges for Candice—mainly a career change into the hospitality business (the primary job sector on the island), and distance away from family and friends.

"I was working a desk job as a data analyst for a pharmaceutical company from 9:00 to 5:00," she told us.

"I had never worked in hospitality. Never done anything like it. The lifestyle here is a lot different. I had never experienced it before. I moved here without ever seeing the island. So it was eye opening."

Tommy leaned on his experiences in the BVI to help get Candice prepared for island living. "Tommy set the expectations really well for what it was like living here," she said. "So, really I didn't have any gray area. He went through all the rough patches that I didn't have to go through because he led the way."

Getting to call the British Virgin Islands home has a way of making difficult transitions easier to digest. And when your "office" at Baraka Point—Tommy is still the full-time chef and Candice is the marketing and reservations manager—overlooks some of the most picturesque blue water on the planet, the work-life balance is equal parts exhilarating, demanding and totally unique.

"We're here working," Tommy told us. "This is not vacation. We live here and work. I have guests that come here for a week that are like, ‘How can you do this?’ I'm like, ‘Well, I've been here since 6:30 in the morning making you breakfast.’ Then I go home at 9:00 or 9:30, I'm exhausted."

Candice added: "We have the same goal, which is to get people at this villa and make it successful for us, the owner and for the rest of the team."

All their hard work is making a difference as Baraka Point reopens full-time again in 2022 after being rebuilt for two years following Hurricane Irma and COVID-related lockdowns. Which means plenty of things to look forward to in the days to come.

"I'm really looking forward to having tourists come back here and us getting back into the swing of things at Baraka," Tommy said. "The people that work here are amazing. Our guests are amazing. The ones that came last week, it's their third time back. They got married here."

Also on the menu for 2022 is plenty of scuba diving, one of the couple’s passions. They’re not just diving to appreciate the underwater scenery; they’re both actively involved in the local community’s efforts to resuscitate the BVI’s coral reefs. "When I moved here, I didn't know how afraid of the open ocean I was," Candice mentioned with a smile. "I’d never spent time out in the deep ocean. That was a learning curve. Now we're divers. It's a new part of our everyday life. We're treating the reef for stony coral disease. It’s a huge passion of ours."

Living together in the British Virgin Islands means plenty of Every day should feel this good moments for this couple. "I literally wake up every day and I put on flip flops to go to work," Tommy said. "You can't really beat that. It's amazing." As for Candice, it’s the view that never gets old. "I step out my front door and get to see the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean Sea," Candice told us.

But the happiest part? Sharing this island adventure together. "It's a beautiful place and I get to hang out with my wife every day," said Tommy. "It doesn’t get better than that."

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