The International Living Podcast

Episode 42: How We Built a Successful Beach Club Business in Belize

September 13, 2023 International Living
Episode 42: How We Built a Successful Beach Club Business in Belize
The International Living Podcast
More Info
The International Living Podcast
Episode 42: How We Built a Successful Beach Club Business in Belize
Sep 13, 2023
International Living

Send us a Text Message.

This week, we’re talking to IL Belize Correspondent, Shane Kenny, and his wife, Heather, about their decision to up sticks from their home in Atlanta and move to the Caribbean nation of Belize.

With two sons at high school, and established careers in the States, there were plenty of reasons why Shane and Heather shouldn’t have taken the plunge, but fortune favors the brave, and it wasn’t long before they turned their dream of owning a beachside hospitality business became a reality.

Adventurous? For sure. Hard work? Definitely. And that’s before they got hit with a pandemic lockdown in their first year of trading….

Shane and Heather were definitely not the first couple who looked around themselves one day and thought, "Let’s give it all up and go run a bar in the Caribbean." But there’s a big difference between dreaming it and doing it. Now, after lots of learning-on-the-job and hard work, they’ve made their Belize dream come true.

It didn’t happen right away. In fact, their search for the perfect opportunity started in an entirely different Caribbean nation—the Dominican Republic. But in the end, it was the practical details of Belize—no currency fluctuations, a more recognizable legal structure, and above all, the fact that the official language is English—that won out. Combing the coastline in search of the ideal spot, it was almost entirely by luck that they hit upon an abandoned beach club with an almost empty pool…and realized that they’d hit pay dirt.

"That's kind of the story of how we ended up here and how we ended up with what's now called Placencia Beach Club," explains Shane. "And so what we do is, we are a bar and a restaurant, but we're on the beach, and we have a pool as well, so we call it a beach club because people come not just to eat or drink, but they come kind of spend the day and relax. And so they'll hang out in the pool or on the beach or in the water."

Now, with the business ticking along, and all the hassles of relocation behind them, there’s time to reflect: "Life is simpler," says Heather. "Not every aspect of life is easier, but it's so much simpler and a lot less stressful from outside influences."

Join host, Jim Santos, as he meets Shane and Heather Kenny in the latest episode of Bigger, Better World.

Read Heather's full article in the August issue of the International Living Magazine: We Turned an Abandoned Pool into a Booming Beach Club

If you’re enjoying the podcast, we would really appreciate it if you could leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform: https://lovethepodcast.com/internationalliving.

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

This week, we’re talking to IL Belize Correspondent, Shane Kenny, and his wife, Heather, about their decision to up sticks from their home in Atlanta and move to the Caribbean nation of Belize.

With two sons at high school, and established careers in the States, there were plenty of reasons why Shane and Heather shouldn’t have taken the plunge, but fortune favors the brave, and it wasn’t long before they turned their dream of owning a beachside hospitality business became a reality.

Adventurous? For sure. Hard work? Definitely. And that’s before they got hit with a pandemic lockdown in their first year of trading….

Shane and Heather were definitely not the first couple who looked around themselves one day and thought, "Let’s give it all up and go run a bar in the Caribbean." But there’s a big difference between dreaming it and doing it. Now, after lots of learning-on-the-job and hard work, they’ve made their Belize dream come true.

It didn’t happen right away. In fact, their search for the perfect opportunity started in an entirely different Caribbean nation—the Dominican Republic. But in the end, it was the practical details of Belize—no currency fluctuations, a more recognizable legal structure, and above all, the fact that the official language is English—that won out. Combing the coastline in search of the ideal spot, it was almost entirely by luck that they hit upon an abandoned beach club with an almost empty pool…and realized that they’d hit pay dirt.

"That's kind of the story of how we ended up here and how we ended up with what's now called Placencia Beach Club," explains Shane. "And so what we do is, we are a bar and a restaurant, but we're on the beach, and we have a pool as well, so we call it a beach club because people come not just to eat or drink, but they come kind of spend the day and relax. And so they'll hang out in the pool or on the beach or in the water."

Now, with the business ticking along, and all the hassles of relocation behind them, there’s time to reflect: "Life is simpler," says Heather. "Not every aspect of life is easier, but it's so much simpler and a lot less stressful from outside influences."

Join host, Jim Santos, as he meets Shane and Heather Kenny in the latest episode of Bigger, Better World.

Read Heather's full article in the August issue of the International Living Magazine: We Turned an Abandoned Pool into a Booming Beach Club

If you’re enjoying the podcast, we would really appreciate it if you could leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform: https://lovethepodcast.com/internationalliving.

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

Jim Santos 00:09 
Hello everyone. I'm Jim Santos and this is Bigger, Better World from International Living. In this podcast series, we introduce you to a bigger world, full of communities that are safe, welcoming, beautiful, and largely undiscovered. A better world. Friendly, warm, great value world where you can live richer, travel more, invest for profit, and enjoy a better life. So let's get started. 

Greetings and welcome once again to Bigger, Better World. Today we'll be talking about the Central American country of Belize. This is a small Caribbean nation, only 180 miles long and 68 miles wide. Also, it's the least densely populated nation in Central America, yet it's very popular tourist destination because of its beautiful waters, great reefs for diving, and friendly people. 

Expats also like that the official language is English. Today we're joined by Shane and Heather Kenny. Heather wrote an article about their new life in Belize in the August 2023 edition of International Living entitled ‘We Turned an Abandoned Pool into a Booming Beach Club’. 

Shane, Heather, welcome to Bigger, Better World and thanks for taking the time to speak with me today.

Shane Kenny 01:24 
Well, thanks for having us.

Jim Santos 01:26 
Now, I wanted to get a little bit of background on you before we get into the meat of Heather's article here. I understand you both come from families that lived abroad at one point in your lives.

Heather Kenny 01:37 
Yep, although Shane doesn't count me as having any experience prior to this because my folks moved after I started college and so I'm a fake overseas.

Jim Santos 01:49 
And where did your folks move to?

Heather Kenny 01:51 
They lived in Thailand for about 11 years.

Jim Santos 01:53 
Oh, nice. And how about you, Shane?

Shane Kenny 01:56 
I spent high school, well, five years, but ending of high school in Scotland.

Jim Santos 02:02 
That must have been very interesting.

Shane Kenny 02:04 
Yeah. Still have conversations occasionally with the people I went to high school with and although if I went there today, I would probably freeze after living in Belize for over four years now.

Jim Santos 02:15 
Yeah, the blood does thin very quickly. Well, I have to say, I know it's not a competition, but I watch a lot of British TV and understanding the Scottish accent can be just as difficult as understanding Thai. So I have to say you guys are a little evenly matched on that area.

Heather Kenny 02:32 
I like it.

Jim Santos 02:35 
So where did you guys live in the States? And what led to this decision to move to Belize?

Heather Kenny 02:41 
So, for about 20 years prior to moving here to Belize, we lived in the Atlanta, Georgia area. That's a big area, but we lived kind of northwest of the city itself. And this idea has been something that we've been talking about for a lot of years. We've actually talked about it since before we got married. We've been married for 26 years. Shane feels like congratulations. Feels like 52, just double…whatever.

Shane Kenny 03:18 
That's not dog years…there's marriage years, or double actual years?

Jim Santos 03:22 
It was 26 years each.

Heather Kenny 03:26 
I like it even better. You helped dig him out of the dog house. Yeah. So we talked about it for a long time. It was going to be our ‘after kids were out of the house’ decision, and then it wasn't.

Jim Santos 03:45 
How many kids do you have?

Heather Kenny 03:48 
We have two boys.

Jim Santos 03:49 
Two boys.

Heather Kenny 03:49 
One who is 22 and one who is 17, almost 18.

Jim Santos 03:55 
And reading your article, Heather, it seems like from the start you guys were thinking about something in the hospitality business. Did either of you have any experience in the field?

Heather Kenny 04:06 
Does it count that I bussed tables for a restaurant in high school? Because that's about it.

Jim Santos 04:12 
That's about it, yeah.

Heather Kenny 04:16 
My background, I actually have a nursing degree, a Bachelor of Science in nursing, and so loosely, that's hospitality as well. Right.

Jim Santos 04:25 
Hospital, anyway.

Heather Kenny 04:27 
Yeah, there you yeah, that's as close as it got to any experience prior to this.

Jim Santos 04:32 
And Shane, your business had nothing to do with the hospitality field either?

Shane Kenny 04:36 
No. I've been in tech my entire career, but always very entrepreneurial, like. I've always pretty much worked for myself. I think I worked for a company in the Atlanta area for a couple of years out of college, but other than that, I've always kind of done my own thing. And so the idea of jumping into something that really had no experience and wasn't as frightening to me as it might have been to Heather or other people. I'd been around long enough to know that he could handle just about any crazy hare-brained… Knew it was going to be a wild ride, but it'd be okay.

Jim Santos 05:14 
So how did you settle on Belize as a place to set up a business?

Heather Kenny 05:18 
That's a great question. It was not our first thought of where we were going to go. We had some criteria of where we wanted to land. Some of those criteria included being easily accessible to people. We didn't want it to be a ten hour ride through the mountains or something like that for folks to get to us. And we knew Caribbean was probably where we wanted to land so that it was easy access from the States, so we needed to be within X number of miles of an airport and in the Caribbean. 

So initially Shane was doing some research and found a little hotel for sale in Cabarete, Dominican Republic. Kite surfing capital of the world. Is that right?

Shane Kenny 06:07 
Yeah, one of the top kite surfing, yeah.

Heather Kenny 06:10 
So we pursued that first. We went and took a trip there and spent some days in the area and enjoyed the property and made an offer on it and then started digging into some things and some red flags were raised and we went, this might not be the right opportunity at all. So kind of went back to the drawing board.

Jim Santos 06:35 
I understand from your article that at this point, when this started, Heather wasn't that excited about the idea. This was mostly Shane driving it at this point.

Shane Kenny 06:45 
Yeah. Well, like, you know, this is something we talked about doing after the kids were out of the house. And this is what, six years ago now, when I brought this conversation up. So our almost 18 year old would have been twelve, right? Twelve. And our oldest son would have been kind of working his way through high school. And so I just got to the point I was at the point in my career I'd sold a business and then I'd done a little bit of dabbling in some other things and kind of played some golf, which I never got any better at. 

So then I gave up on… kind of tried the semiretired kind of lifestyle and was looked into something, and I was like one night I just was like, Why are we waiting on this? And it was, what, three weeks or so before we really talked about it again?

Heather Kenny 07:34 
Yeah, he said it. I turned over and fell asleep because I could not process that. I was at a place where I had two career opportunities that I was pursuing, and I was like, I'm not giving those up. Are you kidding me? Talking about this now for so, yeah, it was about three weeks till we talked again. I said, don't talk to me about it till I talk to you. Then we'll be OK.

Jim Santos 08:04 
But then after the Dominican Republic, it seems like your role is kind of reversed.

Heather Kenny 08:08 
Yeah, Shane got pretty discouraged. I mean, we did a fair amount of due diligence, months of it, including multiple trips and things. And so when it was a big, kind, know, slam door in the face, it makes you go, are we really supposed to be pursuing this? Right. And we honestly thought maybe we were supposed to wait till after the kids were out of the house. But one day I was like, hey, let's at least figure out where we want to live. We don't have to do anything about it right now, but let's find a place, right, and we can go from there. Yeah. So that prompted a little trip to Belize.

Jim Santos 08:45 
What led to the idea of Belize rather than any of the other Caribbean destinations?

Shane Kenny 08:48 
I think, once we got here. So we actually had been to Belize once, about eight years before that, for a sailing trip with some friends. So it wasn't our first time in the country, or even in Placencia, where we currently live. But I think when you start looking in depth at a few things, it starts to make more sense. 

And some of those things are like, English is the official language in Belize. We were working in the Dominican Republic. The official language is Spanish. So all business has to be done in Spanish, which means contracts have to be translated in Spanish, and they can be in English and Spanish. But if there's any confusion in the English, then the Spanish prevails, but I don't speak Spanish. The other thing that Belize does, and I don't know that any other Caribbean nation or nation that's bordered on the Caribbean does, is they have freehold or fee simple titles, which means you actually own the property as opposed to just leasing it from the government. Right.

Jim Santos 09:48 
Which is very important.

Shane Kenny 09:49 
Yeah. And they actually allow foreigners to own the land, and it can even be owned in the name of a company that's a foreign company. And so our land that we own here, our property that we own here, is actually held by our Georgia based LLC. And so those were two things that were really great. And then you start coming here and experiencing it. It's like the exchange rate that's fixed at two Belize dollars for every US Dollar. There's no fooling around with exchange rates that fluctuate every day. 

And having an exchange of money since it's fixed, every vendor here takes US dollars as if it was the currency of the country. Right. And you can even mix and match. I can use Belize, Dollars and US. Dollars in the same transaction, and it just becomes second nature to do that math. And so those were a couple of the things that kind of really stood out to us when we started kind of digging in here in Belize. The fact that the property that we ended up at is literally a mile from the little regional airport here makes it super easy to get here. If you want to just take a flight down from Belize City, you can be here in 20 to 30 minutes, or you can drive and be here in two and a half hours.

Jim Santos 11:03 
So tell me a little bit about where you ended up there, Placencia. It's basically a fishing village, right?

Shane Kenny 11:09 
Yeah, it's an old fishing village. People still fish from here. I wouldn't say the primary industry is fishing anymore. Placencia now fights for second and third in size for tourism in the country with Key Caulker, which is an island that's up by Belize City. So I would say tourism is probably the biggest industry now here, but it still retains a lot of kind of its older fishing village charm, especially like in the village especially, so that's even some of the stuff that drew us to is the fact that it's just simpler and smaller and everything. Like our subdivision in the States that we lived in had more people in it than this village has in it. Right.

Jim Santos 11:59 
And the village is not on the mainland. Right. It's on a kind of a little peninsula.

Shane Kenny 12:05 
Yeah, it's a peninsula. So some people refer to it as the island you can drive to because it has that island feel. And Belize in general, especially coastal Belize, really has kind of that Caribbean, reggae, Jamaica kind of feel to it, more than Central America, like Panama or Colombia kind of feel to it, especially since pretty much everyone speaks English.

Jim Santos 12:28 
And do you see any high-rise condominiums in Placencia?

Heather Kenny 12:35 
The highest building we have is five stories.

Jim Santos 12:39 
Okay. So it's a very kind of laid back, rustic, almost feel to it.

Heather Kenny 12:44 
Yeah. For a long time, the kind of gentleman's agreement was buildings are no higher than the palm trees, so then they just planted taller palm trees. Right? There's a way around that. Right, right.

Jim Santos 13:00 
So I understand your kids also helped make this decision too.

Heather Kenny 13:08 
So once I finally came around to being able to talk to Shane about it, I was super mature when I approached him and I was now, let's…I'm OK with pursuing this as long as the kids say okay. Totally threw the kids under the bus, right? Totally. And some of that stemmed from I moved a lot. I went to nine different schools growing up. Moved before my senior year, which would be the year that we would have moved potentially for our oldest son. 
So I was like, look, I don't want to put my kids through something if they're not willing to be a part of this and not excited about it.

Jim Santos 13:52 
Right. Be missing the senior year, senior prom and all that stuff with people that he's known.

Heather Kenny 13:57 
Yeah, you're right. We hadn't moved since from the area since they'd been born, so they had no experience in moving like we both had. Yeah. So we sat them down, had a little family meeting, asked them, and much to my chagrin, they both were super excited about it. They were like, yeah, let's do this. I was like, oh, crap. But here we are. Here we are.

Jim Santos 14:23 
So off to Placencia then. And you did, I guess, a scouting trip, working with realtors.

Shane Kenny 14:28 
Yeah. So we initially came down, just Heather and I, and we spent I think it was three days we ran in a golf cart, zoomed up and down the there's only one main road here on the peninsula, so up and down the B road and looked at pretty much every vacant piece of property and then also some properties that had structures on them that maybe weren't complete. And we kind of left we were getting ready to leave with an idea that there was some acreage up a little bit further north on the peninsula than we are now and said, hey, let's purchase the property, we'll work on paying it off, then we'll figure out what to do with it next. And I think it was the last one. It was hot. It was probably June or July and we're from Atlanta, so we're used to….

Jim Santos 15:21 
Kind of humid, hot Atlanta.

Shane Kenny 15:23 
Right, yes. But I tell people it's just different. Like in Atlanta, you wake up in your air conditioned house and you run your air conditioned office and then you might go to air conditioned lunch if you even leave the office. And so you really live most of your life in air conditioned spaces, right? 

Here,, you're not really doing that as much, and so it just feels hotter. It's almost like your core heats up because you're not sitting in the air conditioning as much as you used to. And so it was super hot that day. The beach wasn't great for getting in. The waves were pretty high. The water was churned up a lot. And I was like, man, I really wish it was just a pool to swim up bar that we could just go get in the pool, cool off.

So I pulled up Facebook, Google, started looking around and found a place. At that time it was called Fusion Beach. Looked like they hadn't updated their Facebook in a while. Looked like it was closed. But we're like, hey, we got a golf cart with a buzz up there. So we drove up here, we found the place, pulled in the parking lot, and the place is overgrown with weeds, the deck is falling off.

The pool had about two feet of water in the deep end, and it was like lime jello green, more like a consistency of pudding. And so we're like, oh, okay, the place is closed. So we hopped back in the golf cart and went back to where we were staying. Really didn't give it a second thought.

Jim Santos 16:51 
Okay, so you didn't just look at it and think, oh, this is a gold mine?

Heather Kenny 16:55 
Absolutely not.

Shane Kenny 16:56 
Really didn't match because our ultimate goal in doing this is to have a small boutique resort set up. We weren't really looking for a beach bar project. So we packed up, went back to the States. Over the next couple of weeks, we just kind of got talking, and we're like, hey, we have no hospitality experience, right, other than Heather's work in high school.

Heather Kenny 17:21 
Don't discredit it.

Shane Kenny 17:25 
We're like, maybe it makes sense to just kind of dip our toe in the water and do the bar and restaurant beach club kind of idea. And so we started asking know, got the story on the old Fusion, what used to be called Fusion Beach here. And everyone we talked to thought the concept was a great concept. It should have done well, but the previous owner just didn't do a great job of running the business right? 

And so our realtor, who turns out to be our neighbor two doors down, say doors, but two lots down on the beach, he was the one that's like, yeah, we think it'd be a great thing. And so part of our reassurance of the fact that the neighbor doesn't want this place constantly turning over, especially to the realtor, because he understands getting a long term business in there successfully running is better for him as well as a neighbor. 
And so we made an offer on the place, and the owner at the time, he countered and we met him in the middle. And so it ended up being a super easy negotiation, even just to get it under contract. And that's obviously when the work starts.

Jim Santos 18:32 
Right, right.

Shane Kenny 18:33 
Yeah. That's kind of the story of how we ended up here and how we ended up with what's now called Placencia Beach Club. And so what we do is we are a bar and a restaurant, but we're on the beach and we have pool as well, so we call it a beach club because people come not just to eat or drink, but they come kind of spend the day and relax. And so they'll hang out in the pool or on the beach or in the water. 

We have a swim up bar we added to the pool, so you can be in the pool and swim up and get a beer. That’s what I was looking for. That's funny. I don't even use our swim up bar. Running the business.

Jim Santos 19:06 
Right, right. Too many people in it.

Heather Kenny 19:08 
Yeah.

Shane Kenny 19:11 
That's the concept we started with. So we still do plan to be a small resort at some point. We are working on plans. We're getting ready to engage the architect to start actually designing the plans for our next phase here. And that's one of the things we loved about the property, was we looked at it and saw the potential to build out what we wanted over time as opposed to having to do it all up front.

Jim Santos 19:36 
So how much work did you have to put into it to get it ready to be open for business?

Heather Kenny 19:41 
Oh, you know, just a little spit and polish. It was fine. No, not at all. It took a good solid nine months of redoing. We're right on the sea, and so the salt air is just brutal on both anything metal and anything wood. So there was a lot that needed to be redone. We built up a bunch of deck that wasn't there before. There was nothing in the restaurant. All of the equipment and all of the furniture and all of that had been taken out and sold off over time. So it was like we had a shell that we restarted with and yeah, had to go from there. Took a minute.

Jim Santos 20:27 
So you had the hookups and everything in the restaurant and in the bar, but you had to bring in all of the appliances and chairs and tables.

Heather Kenny 20:36 
Yes, all of that. We had one of those great big 40 foot long seaworthy shipping containers that was full of mostly restaurant equipment and stuff. And I think like six totes of stuff for us personally. That was about it.

Shane Kenny 20:52 
Yeah.

Jim Santos 20:52 
I was going to ask if you're able to find this locally or if you had to import everything from the US.

Shane Kenny 20:56 
So some of the stuff we could do locally, like the tables and chairs that we had designed, local woods, craftsmen went ahead and put those together for us. But like stove, refrigerators, keg machines, that kind of stuff, restaurant equipment, we just shipped it in just because it was easier. We went and shopped the scratch and dent sales everywhere. 

Our best find, honestly. We were in the basement of this restaurant supply store, and they had one of those, they call them low boys, which is a technical restaurant term, but it's like the refrigerator that goes under the counter where you prepare the food. And they're designed to be in the hot environment of being in the kitchen. And so we're walking through the scratch and dent repossession area of this restaurant supply store, and I see this thing, and then I said, what's the story with this? 

They're like, well, it doesn't work. I said, well, how much would you charge me for it? They're like, I'd probably charge you, let's say $400. That's what the aluminum that's in it's worth and the stainless steel. I said okay. So we took it, we put it on the shipping container, never plugged it in.

Put it on the shipping container, brought it down here, brought in a guy that does refrigeration stuff here in the Placencia area. He put some refrigerant in it, dusted a few things off, plugged it in, and it's still running almost four and a half years later. It's probably a couple of $1,000 fridge we got for $400. That's like our best find. But I started that story because we're in Belize, so we're not creating a showroom kitchen. So we didn't care if the refrigerator scratch on the side of it or a dent, as long as it kept food cold.

Jim Santos 22:39 
Do you have a consultant or anything working with you? What kind of equipment you need in the restaurant, what kind of equipment you need in the bar?

Heather Kenny 22:46 
Yeah. So we have a friend who was a chef, actually overseas in Cambodia for many years. So had worked overseas in a kitchen, and we had her consult with us for about 18 months total. So she came, she helped us pick out the equipment, she helped us develop our first menu, helped set up the kitchen, get it staffed, and that sort of thing. So that was a huge help.

Jim Santos 23:14 
How about actually moving to Belize? When did you make that transfer from living in Atlanta to living in Belize?

Shane Kenny 23:23 
It was June of ‘19. June 5 of ‘19. So we just passed the four year mark back months ago.

Jim Santos 23:32 
Was there any difficulty with the residency program there in Belize, or were you in because you were starting a business?

Shane Kenny 23:40 
I'm trying to figure out the best way to answer that. We had this little thing called COVID that popped up six months after we opened the business.

Jim Santos 23:47 
I was going to say your timing was a little suspect.

Shane Kenny 23:50 
It was impeccable. Right. So COVID happened about six months, almost exactly six months after we opened the business. And in two weeks, we started business. We lost 50% of our business one week and then the other 50% the next week. Belize went pretty draconian in a lot of their reaction to the COVID virus. Completely closed down the airports, the land ports, the seaports. So you couldn't really get in and out of Belize. 

About once a month or every couple of weeks, they would do an expatriation flight. So if anybody wanted to go back to the US, you could get on this one flight that they were letting. They let the plane land. They wouldn't even let the people off of it. Everyone would get on it, and they would leave. So essentially destroyed the tourism business in Belize, which is, the government calls it 40% of the GDP. I think the estimates are low, personally, but I'm not an economist, so by any stretch of imagination. And so for the next eight months, we just reinvented the business every couple of weeks to try to keep things flowing. 

And so you asked about residency. Residency came kind of out of coming out of COVID because in order to apply to be a permanent resident, resident in Belize, you have to have lived here 50 or 52 consecutive weeks.

Jim Santos 25:10 
Okay?

Shane Kenny 25:10 
And so that's the first test you have to pass. And then you file a ream of paper, stack of documents with Immigration department, and then you wait, and you wait, and then you wait some more. And then when you think the waiting is almost over, you wait a little bit longer, and eventually you get a phone call saying that you've been approved. You can come pick up your residency cards. And so it took us probably almost a year. It was probably eight or nine months from when we filed the paperwork until we got the approval.

Jim Santos 25:42 
But most of that delay, though, could have been because of the COVID restrictions. Right?

Shane Kenny 25:47 
Well, I think coming out of COVID there was two things that happened coming out of COVID. They were way behind because they really hadn't been working at full power either. They limited who could be in the office and how many people and where they could sit. And so really understaffed. And then coming out of COVID a lot of people passed the 50 or 52 week test. And so all of a sudden, people are showing up and dropping off applications.

Jim Santos 26:10 
To get the residency getting swamped all at once. Right?

Shane Kenny 26:14 
Yeah. And so the good thing though, is Belize, if you own a business or you're going to be working in a job that they don't feel is taking a job away from a Belizean, you can get what's called a temporary employment permit. They call them work permits here, kind of more locally, and those are good for a year. And so we were able for the two years, while we were kind of waiting for our residency to come through, we were able to get work permits that allowed us to stay for an entire year and allowed us to work in the country as well.

Jim Santos 26:48 
And the property, you purchased. Did it have your living quarters on there, too, or did you also find a place to live in? Placencia?

Heather Kenny 26:56 
Thankfully, it has a little 950 square foot house that's right on property. The commute beats the Atlanta commute.

Jim Santos 27:10 
I live in Knoxville, and we have friends in Athens, Georgia. Driving past Atlanta like that is a very difficult thing. We always arrive very stressed out.

Heather Kenny 27:21 
Yeah. So we live right here on property, and everything's centered right here. There's some days there's a lot of days that we don't ever even leave the property.

Shane Kenny 27:34 
Well, and everything you want, like restaurants and anything in the village, is literally a mile from our front door south, so we don't even own a car. We have a golf cart that we can use, but we don't take the golf cart more than to the airport, which is a mile north of us. And so really easy to get around.

Heather Kenny 27:53 
Most of the time we walk.

Shane Kenny 27:54 
Yeah.

Heather Kenny 27:54 
Almost everywhere we go. We just great.

Jim Santos 27:59 
We lived in Ecuador for six years and didn't have to own a car because everything was within walking distance. And it's amazing how much better it is for your health when you're out walking instead of jumping in a car to go do everything.

Heather Kenny 28:10 
Yep, for sure.

Jim Santos 28:12 
Now, with all the bureaucracy around getting the residency permits, did you have any problems getting permits for the bar and the restaurant?

Shane Kenny 28:20 
No, those are pretty straightforward. Things have been the same for years and years and years. The hardest part is just figuring out exactly how to do it. But the best thing you can do here is find somebody who's done it recently and ask them to kind of walk you through the process. And so we were fortunate. We kind of quickly got to know a couple of the other bar and restaurant owners that had been through this process multiple times, and they were kind enough to kind of point us in the right directions to help us figure out those processes. 

The only real license we had to get is the liquor license so we could be open as a bar, being a village. And here in Belize, a village, a town, and a city are actually legal designations. And so we're a village, which means we don't really technically have a local government. We have a village council, but they're kind of more like your student government than they are like a legal kind of body that runs the village. And so since we're a village, we don't have to have restaurant permits and all those kind of things, whereas if you're a town or a city, you do. So we did get out of having to do some of that process just because of where we chose to set up.

Jim Santos 29:34 
And how did your kids adjust to this? Are they still as excited about the idea?

Heather Kenny 29:38 
Yeah. So our older son did not move with us. He graduated from high school. Two weeks before we moved. We had joked for a long time that when he graduated that we were going to sell his room so that he couldn't boomerang and come back. And then we actually he's visited a few times, but he was in the Air Force for a while and is off on his own. But our younger son went to a local international school for the first year that we were here, developed some great friendships that just even a few weeks ago we hung out with some of those families and the boys all just had a good time. So I would say he adjusted really well with COVID hitting school shut down here as well.

Jim Santos 30:32 
Right.

Heather Kenny 30:33 
And so that was difficult. But then with school here as well, it's only required through grade eight. High school is not mandatory and so a lot of kids end their schooling after eighth grade. That was the grade he was in when we moved, was eighth grade. So he did the one year of 8th grade with the international school. We don't have a high school in the village and so we already knew that he was going to do an online US based high school and so that's what he continues to do now. 

So he does his own pace of high school and then is involved in several things. Karate. There's a karate dojo here in the Village and he does that. He's ready to go back to the States once he graduates, but I don't think by any stretch he regrets living here at all.

Jim Santos 31:33 
So he'll be going back to the States for college.

Heather Kenny 31:35 
He'll be going back to the States.

Shane Kenny 31:36 
For something post-high school, something we're in negotiations now.

Heather Kenny 31:41 
Yeah, I see.

Shane Kenny 31:45 
I would say this too. When I was a kid in high school, we spent a lot of our time outdoors, right. Riding bikes, climbing trees, hitting golf balls in the cow pasture, those kind of things. Kids that are our younger son's age, they've kind of grown up differently, where a lot of their relationships are more kind of online. And I wouldn't say virtual, they're still person to person, but they connect through ifferent avenues, face to face, through multiplayer games and things.

So even when we were in the States, you know, our kids would have their friends over for a sleepover because they're going to play video games all night. And they would all be sitting in different areas of the room on their own laptops with their headsets on, talking to each other. Not talking to each other, but through the headset. And the great thing about the internet is he can still do that from here. 

So a lot of his friends that he used to play games with all the time online and stuff like that, he still does that with them. And then about once a year he goes back for ten to 14 days and spends time back where we used to live, so he can reconnect with his friends. He may say years from now that we ruined his life, but I don't think he would say that now. I think he enjoys the simplicity of if we want to go get a burger, we walk for 15 minutes to the place where we get burgers, or if we want pizza, we go to this place and get it. And it's just a way simpler life.

Jim Santos 33:16 
And it's hard to be too upset about living at the beach.

Heather Kenny 33:19 
Yeah. Although, ironically, he hates the beach. Yeah.

Shane Kenny 33:25 
Well, to add on top of that, I'm not really a beach person either. The truth comes out, I'm a pool at the beach.

Jim Santos 33:34
So it's that Atlanta upbringing, right?

Heather Kenny 33:37 
Yeah.

Shane Kenny 33:38 
So that's why we have a pool on the property. That was a requirement of one of our requirements. Had to be close to an airport, had to have a pool. There was probably about twelve items on that list, but having a pool was one of them. Because I don't mind going out to the beach and being at the beach, but I really want to be in the pool.

Jim Santos 33:53 
So in spite of the rocky start and the poor timing and everything, it sounds like now your business is actually up and running very well.

Shane Kenny 34:00 
Yes. The last two years have been really good. Coming out of COVID last year, I think a lot of people, even people who've been in Placencia a long time, were a bit shocked by how quickly it rebounded. And I'm sure you've seen a lot of the stuff about revenge travel.

Jim Santos 34:17 
Yeah, I think a lot of people were just champing at the bit to get out of the house and do something.

Shane Kenny 34:21 
So I would say last year's, quote unquote, tourist season here, a lot of people who've been here a long time said it was different than anything they'd ever seen and there was a hope it was going to stick. But this year is kind of starting to feel more like the normal flow where there's a really busy season and then slower season and then really slow season. But even with that being said, this year has been our best year. We're about to finish our fourth year and it's been our best year. 

And like I mentioned earlier, we're looking forward to what's the next phase of what we want to do here, so that we have had enough encouragement over the last two years to say, okay, keep going, move forward with your plans as opposed to backing off of anything.

Jim Santos 35:07 
What do you think you like best about your new lifestyle?

Heather Kenny 35:11 
What Shane mentioned earlier, the simplicity. There's so many less things vying for your attention here. Not that let's be clear. Simple and easy aren't the same. Right. So life is simpler. Not every aspect of life is easier, but it's so much simpler and a lot less stressful from outside influences.

Jim Santos 35:43 
We’ve been talking with Heather and Shane Kenny about Heather's August 2023 article, ‘We Turned an Abandoned Pool into a Booming Beach Club’. If you want more information about their beach club, you can check out their website www.placenciabachclub.com that's P-L-A-C-E-N-C-I-A beachclub.com. Well, my thanks to both of you for joining us on Bigger, Better World, and I wish you continued success.

Heather Kenny 36:07 
Thanks so much.

Shane Kenny 36:08 
Thank you.

Jim Santos 36:19 
The Bigger, Better World podcast is a production of International Living. If you enjoyed this episode and you'd like to help support the podcast, please share it with others, post about it on social media, or leave a rating and review. If you have an idea for an episode or a question you'd like us to answer, email us at mailbag@internationalliving.com. And don't forget to put podcast in the subject line of your email. That's mailbag@internationalliving.com. 

We created Bigger, Better World to help showcase the ideas we explore at International Living each month and grow our community of travel lovers, expats, and experts who believe, as we do, that the world is full of opportunity to create a more interesting, more international life. You don't have to be rich or famous to do that. You just need to know the secrets. And that's what we bring you at International Living. If you haven't become a member yet, you can do it today with a special discount offer for podcast listeners. You'll receive our monthly magazine, plus a bundle of special extras. 

You'll find the link in our show notes, or you can go to intliving.com/podcast. That's Intliving.com/podcast. 

Bigger, Better World is going on the road soon as my wife Rita and I begin our COVID delayed plan to enjoy a roving retirement for a while. I'll continue to bring you weekly podcasts as we explore parts of Eastern Europe, Spain and Portugal over the next few months.

And until next time, this is Jim Santos with International Living reminding you there's a Bigger, Better World out there just waiting for you.


Who, Where, What? Some Background About Life Before Belize
Checklist For a New Life: The Non-Negotiables
A False Start in the Dominican Republic
Legalities and Practicalities—Why Belize Won Out
Convincing the Kids—Easier Than Expected
Discovering Our New Business
Turning a Wreck into a Beautiful Beach Club
COVID, No Tourists, and the Unexpected Residency Benefits
"We're About To Finish Our Fourth Year And It's Been Our Best Year."
“Not Every Aspect of Life is Easier, But It's So Much Simpler”