Jamaican restaurateur considers downtown Hazel’s Blue Lagoon

AMHERST – Junior Williams, a Jamaican immigrant and restaurateur, plans to bring a taste of the Caribbean to downtown Amherst this month when he opens a new restaurant and nightclub, Hazel’s Blue Lagoon.

“We’re trying to bring a different kind of atmosphere to Amherst,” Williams said of his plans to bring live music, fashion shows, cultural themed parties and official galas to the stage at the downtown.

Its establishment, at 39 and 41 Boltwood Walk, will be divided into two distinct environments: a Caribbean-American gourmet restaurant on one side and a lively nightclub on the other.

The name, he said, evokes the natural beauty of Jamaica’s Blue Lagoon and honors his late mother, Hazel Smith, who died on Thanksgiving Day while Williams was attending college.

“My mother had a passion for cooking,” said Williams, which inspired her to open a restaurant in her name.

In 2017, Williams opened their first restaurant, Hazel’s Kitchen, in a small location on Chicopee Street in Chicopee. “We passed this place in seconds,” he said, which called for the need to move to 76 Main Street in Chicopee. During this time, he also opened another business, Courtyard Café, just down the street.

Closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the desire to relocate have prompted Williams to leave Chicopee and cause a sensation in Amherst instead.

“It was kind of like it was supposed to be,” Williams said.

Since there is a road named Hazel Avenue in Amherst, he said it was as if his mother’s name was “already carved in Amherst”.

Williams plans to start hosting parties for families and friends this Saturday to “clear up some flaws” ahead of their grand opening.

While he’s not sure when Hazel’s Blue Lagoon will be fully open to the public, he explained that a Christmas party and New Year’s party are scheduled for December 18 and 31, respectively.

The New Years Eve event “is going to be a bit like a gala,” he said, which will include “a five-course meal with live performances, a singer and a fashion show”.

Williams hopes to make events like this an annual tradition that will secure Hazel’s reputation as an Amherst icon. Commenting on Antonio’s Pizza reputation as a student favorite, he said: “We want to be known for who they are.”

“UMass is a melting pot,” said Williams, whom he hopes to reflect in his nightclub environment.

He explained that he wanted to organize themed evenings to promote the inclusion of people of all musical tastes and cultural backgrounds.

Some themes he suggested included Spanish music, Indian music, reggae, hip hop, jazz, R&B, and oldies. “We will also do live music and contact the artists,” he said of the coming months.

“I love giving back to the community,” said Williams, explaining that he had started a tradition of cooking free Thanksgiving meals for those who are food insecure since opening his first restaurant in 2017.

As someone who comes from a humble start, he said he knows that such generosity can mean the world to people.

Before Williams moved from Jamaica to Springfield at the age of 11, he remembered having only three outfits he would need to wash every day: one for school, one for church and one for the yard. “It’s a surreal feeling to come from nothing,” he said.

Now that Williams can give back to others, he tries to be generous because “you can’t take it to the grave,” he said.

“I want to be able to create a scholarship fund under the name of Hazel’s,” he added, to help students. Williams also said he wanted to pay tribute to local college athletes by putting up photos to celebrate their accomplishments.

His personal experience as a sports coach and as a soccer, wrestling and running player himself at Orange Coast College in California has taught him how important it is to value college athletes.

Since coming to the United States alongside his family, he has emphasized how important family closeness is to him.

“My son and daughter are great inspirations,” said Williams, behind his drive to do good. He also said his nephew, Patrick Chapman, was a driving force in supporting the restaurant and continues to help with the ‘behind the scenes’ work. “Patrick keeps my feet on the ground,” he said.

And, of course, Hazel Smith herself saw through the restaurant’s name and the smiling portrait of her on display just through the front door.

Comments are closed.