This three-time 10Best Readers’ Choice Award winner aims to elevate the beach bar experience
Ehren ‘Hendo’ Henderson worked in finance prior to opening the Hideout — Photo courtesy of William Torrillo, Mango Media
Days after Hurricane Irma ripped through the British Virgin Islands in September 2017, Ehren Henderson was in a small boat picking his way through floating debris toward Jost Van Dyke. The view was grim. The hills of the tiny island were strewn with roofs torn from homes.
As Henderson scanned the shoreline trying to spot his beachfront bar, Hendo’s Hideout, his mind was on his friends, family and employees who had been out of touch since the Category 5 hurricane made landfall. Finally, the outline of the Hideout came into view amid piles of uprooted coconut trees. Half a dozen employees were already on-site, cleaning up and making repairs.
“As crazy as it was to see everything destroyed, seeing everyone helping out made us realize it would all be OK,” recalls Henderson, or “Hendo” as friends and loved ones know him.
OK, indeed. In 2020, 2022 and 2023, 10Best readers voted Hendo’s Hideout among the 10 best beach bars in the Caribbean.
Hendo’s Hideout beach bar — Photo courtesy of Hendo’s Hideout
When Henderson and his wife, Liz, opened Hendo’s Hideout in March 2016, it was not part of their plan to spend the first few years surviving a hurricane and weathering a global pandemic. Tropical storms, at least, were not unfamiliar to Henderson. One of his most vivid memories of growing up on nearby Virgin Gorda was living without electricity for months after Hurricane Hugo hit the island in 1989.
If anyone in the Virgin Islands could ride out hard times it was the Hendersons, whose roots in the area stretch back for generations.
It’s a family affair
When Laurance Rockefeller opened the Caneel Bay resort on St. John in 1956 — effectively a coming-out party for tourism in the Virgin Islands — Henderson’s grandmother, Clara O’Neal, sensed an opportunity. At the time, she was a savvy businesswoman who owned a jewelry store on St. Thomas.
“Through her business, she had the opportunity to travel, and that exposure opened her eyes to the value of tourism,” Henderson explains. O’Neal used some of the profits from her jewelry store to purchase 15 acres of beachfront land on White Bay on Jost Van Dyke, which, at the time, was devoid of roads or businesses and was used mainly to graze cattle.
The prime property would remain undeveloped for decades, but the family stayed busy. Henderson’s family also owned what would become arguably the most popular tourist attraction in the British Virgin Islands — the enchanting Baths on Virgin Gorda. While the family eventually would cede the land that became The Baths National Park, Henderson’s family retained control of the hilltop that overlooks the boulder-strewn beach.
In 1994, Henderson’s parents, Charlene and Norman Henderson, opened Top of the Baths, a hilltop restaurant, bar, pool and collection of shops, with sweeping views of Virgin Gorda. Decades later, their business is still going strong.
Henderson’s love affair with hospitality was a little slow in maturing, however. “As a child, I hated it because my parents put me to work,” he muses. “It took me a while to realize how lucky I was to meet people from all over the world.”
From right to left, Ehren Henderson with his daughter, Havana; wife, Liz; and son, James — Photo courtesy of Brooke Heikkila Photography
Henderson strayed from the hospitality business while attending Boston’s Suffolk University, but the Virgin Islands eventually called him home — this time to St. Thomas, where he worked in finance for 19 years. That’s also where he met his future wife, who was teaching at a local school and working at St. Thomas watering holes like the Shipwreck Tavern and the Giggling Gecko. It was Liz who first had the dream of opening a beach bar.
“The conversation began soon after we met,” says Henderson, who had been exploring ways to develop the family property on Jost Van Dyke in a way that would be acceptable to his family and respectful to island residents.
“I’m a pilot, so the original concept for Hendo’s was very different,” he says. “There was an old DC-3 passenger plane on the runway in St Thomas, and I was originally thinking about relocating it and building something like the bar in ‘Captain Ron,’” the 1992 comedy, starring Kurt Russell, Martin Short and Mary Kay Place.
“My grandparents would roll over in grave,” Henderson laughs. “I knew I needed to do better than that.”
By the time they broke ground on Hendo’s Hideout in 2014, a very different vision emerged for the beach bar.
“We wanted to offer our own unique establishment that reflected our ancestry and shift away from Jost just being a place where people go to drink,” Ehren says. “I didn’t want my kids growing up in a bar.”
Elevating the beach bar experience
The sushi at Hendo’s Hideout pairs nicely with a cocktail — Photo courtesy of Hendo’s Hideout
While the cocktails are certainly worth the visit, the Hendersons place extra emphasis on the dining experience at Hendo’s Hideout.
“It’s a place to have a good meal, not a pile of fast food,” says Henderson. Hendo’s lunch menu highlights locally sourced lobster, tuna and other seafood. The wahoo on the sushi menu may well have been caught by Henderson himself, an avid spearfisherman.
“Chef Roger (de la Cruz) has been with us since the beginning,” he says. “Where we have the most fun is showcasing something different, like chorizo-stuffed chicken — things not usually found on other menus in the Caribbean. If you’re a foodie, you want to try the dinner specials.”
The beach bar and restaurant were designed to blend easily with its surroundings, with shipbuilding techniques used to make it survivable in the face of storms, sun and termites. Durable cumaru wood was used in construction, and even the thatched roof, made from recycled plastic, is sustainable.
Introducing The Hideout
Villas at Hendo’s Hideout — Photo courtesy of Hendo’s Hideout
The same low-key design ethos is evident in the intimate community of one- and two-bedroom vacation villas known as The Hideout, which debuted in October 2022 and feature amenities like Wi-Fi, air-conditioning and private plunge pools.
A family-run resort, Henderson and his sister, Erika, manage the property. Henderson’s parents and brother, Eric, have been instrumental in its development. Future plans include a hillside farm to grow fruit and vegetables for the Hendo’s Hideout kitchen. And while the Hendersons would like to add some wellness amenities, they enjoy referring guests to individuals like Dale Mapp, who owns Ocean Spa BVI, a floating spa in White Bay.
“We want to encourage guests to get out and experience other businesses; we want the Hideout to be a place that benefits everyone,” says Henderson. “Jost is small. There’s not a lot of buildable land, so we need to make sure that local people don’t lose out. Every room and job makes a difference.
“When you live in the BVI, you are a member of the community,” he adds. “I don’t see myself as the owner of Hendo’s, but as a steward of it for my family and my community. Out of all the islands, Jost has the coolest visitors. People come year after year. We want to bring more people to the island because we want to see the quality of life getting better, but it has to be done in a more equitable way.”