Cooking Up Paradise with Eddy Stakelborough

For this St. Barths culinary icon, owning a restaurant is about much more than simply selling food.

"I was born and raised on St. Barths," Eddy Stakelborough told us, his long white hair shifting about in the breeze. We were in Eddy's Ghetto, his creole-style casual restaurant, and the smell emanating from the kitchen made it hard to concentrate. "My dad was the owner of Le Select, opened in ‘49, the oldest restaurant on the island. I started working with him when I was 5 or 6. Then I opened my first restaurant, Cheeseburger in Paradise, in 1979, and my BBQ restaurant, Eddy's Ghetto, in 1989."

Stakelborough's father was something of a jack-of-all-trades—he opened Le Select, the first (and at the time, only) restaurant on the island in 1949. (It's been operating continuously ever since.) Additionally, he opened the island's first bookstore, sold the island's first record player, was at one point the island's only photographer, and much, much more. Le Select has played host to locals and legends, sun-burned tourists and foreign dignitaries. And there for all of it (or, at least a lot of it) was Eddy.

"Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when we were cooking hamburgers, it was a nightmare to get anything," Eddy told us with a chuckle. "Sometimes we'd have to fly to St. Martin to get french fries or hamburger meat. Today, everything is so easy. Most of our food is flown in from France, so it's as good as anywhere else in the world."

For people like Eddy, owning a restaurant is something more than simply selling food. And that's what makes him—and his establishments—so special. "This restaurant is not really a restaurant, it's a place for friends, it's a family business, just like Le Select," Eddy told us. "My son and my wife work here, my daughter has the shop next door. That's the reason we're successful. We give people friendliness. I have a friend who is a famous artist, he painted the gecko in front, and when he's here we'll play music at the table. When Jimmy Buffet is in town he'll come and play with us. Jimmy is a very good friend with my son, they surf together. I don't surf. To tell you the truth, I'm scared of sharks."

Of course running a restaurant on St. Barths is, well, different. "I never have a schedule, I am never on time and I don't wait for anyone to be on time. It's a small island. If I miss you, in 5 minutes we can see each other again, it's no big deal. I don't even have a phone. Usually, a shirt doesn't go on until I have to walk into a store."

Still, overseeing these restaurants that have come to mean so much to the island is not lost on Eddy. "Le Select has a history, for the island people it's a place where a lot of their parents and grandparents grew up going. There is a real connection between the restaurants and the island. If Le Select were to be lost, it would be a big loss for the culture here."