BY MORGAN LEGEL
Businesses aim to take advantage of the rebounding economy, with more opening their doors, however tentatively for some.
UnderWater World Guam in the Guam Aquarium Complex in Tumon re-opened its Dinner Under the Sea in June.
Darren E. Dragon, newly appointed executive chef at the complex told the Journal the menu is underwater-themed. All of the courses are creatively named to reflect the theme, and the menu offers some visual surprises.
The six-course menu offers an amuse bouche to whet the appetite and prepare the palate of guests, an oyster and spinach appetizer, pan seared scallops, seafood bisque, sous-vide beef and lobster tail and a chocolate dessert. “It’s something different for Guam,” Dragon said.
A children’s menu and a vegetarian menu are readily available, and the vegetarian menu has also been popular, Dragon said. “The presentation is pretty nice. People enjoy how it looks.”
At present, 25 guests are being accommodated on Fridays and Saturdays and reservations can be made at www.uwwguam.com/dining/dinner-under-the-sea, with the adult menu set at $99 and the children’s menu at $25. An evening also includes a visit through the aquarium and more.
Dragon said the focus now is on the Dinner Under the Sea, rather than other outlets at the complex, and that the response has been immediate. “It’s been fully booked every Friday and Saturday.” As to meeting demand, he said, “Eventually we’re going to open on Sundays.”
Recalling employees has had some challenges, Dragon said, but they have been met. “We have the staff that were on furlough. They can’t wait for everything to open.”
Dragon said the island is short of culinary professionals. “Cooks are in demand everywhere.” He said the shortage cannot be solely blamed on federal funding for the industry, but that people sought employment where they could. “It’s not only the [Pandemic Unemployment Assistance]. Some of them went off-island. Some of them even changed careers already.”
Guam is currently the site of a host of military exercises. Dragon said the timing is a positive for the re-opening of UnderWater World. “There’s a lot of people in Tumon — Tumon’s packed.” He said visitors to Tumon range from tourists to military to residents. “It’s good for Guam.”
He recognizes the desire of residents and visitors to visit and dine out at the island’s restaurants. “There’s a lot of competition everywhere.” Still, Dragon said it’s good to see the island’s hospitality community ramping up to meet demand.
The chef aims to use local ingredients wherever possible. develop potential of his kitchen. “I try to use whatever we have here,” he said. “They’ve got some good growers now — the farmers co-op; the garnish I use is from Jae Yu (at Marianas Homegrown) and Michelle Crisostomo (at Guahan Sustainable Culture) — the micro greens. They work well.”
He is also developing the potential of his kitchen. “We use a lot of smoked meat. I think we’re getting known for smoked meat now — dried beef.”
Dragon has been in Guam for “30-some years already” and has raised a family on-island.
His parents were both cooks, he said. Dragon began his own career at the Westin Resort Guam before heading to Las Vegas, Nev., to seek certification and joined the Meskla team for three years on his return to Guam, before moving to Pacific Islands Club Guam where he worked at both the Skylight Restaurant and the Bistro.
Readers will likely remember him as the executive sous chef at Pacific Islands Club Guam — his most recent appointment. Dragon said he was at PIC for about 12 years.
He was also a familiar sight and winner at a slew of island culinary events, such as the Pastries in Paradise and Taste Guam. “I can’t wait for them again,” Dragon said. Among his qualifications, Dragon holds a Le cordon bleu culinary institute certification and is Servsafe / HACCP certified.
GeT Together, a screen-rental company, opened in February.
Owner Anzhela Kalsynova said she thinks the service, along with the alternate-reality drawings GeT Together also offers, is what the island needs right now, and will help with communication.
“The movie-rental helps to develop social skills through movie nights and helping children to communicate in a brand-new way,” she said. “It can help them find friends and hang out with those other kids they may not know very well.”
The screens can be rented for $200 per hour, but as the business grows, that may change. GeT Together provides all equipment, including a sound system. All the customer needs to provide is the movie or entertainment, whether that be a DVD or streaming.
For the AR drawings, more than 30 options and templates are available to be colored.
“The templates become alive in their environment — like a classroom,” Kalsynova said. Say they’re learning about volcanoes — they color them and they become alive and can move. It can really bring a wow-effect and it can increase their education and stimulate their mental level.”
Once the drawing comes to life, it’s 75% real and, according to Kalsynova, “For the other 25% we’ve added something very special for the kids.”
This service is also $200 an hour, and she said she can interact with 10 to 12 children.
Currently, GeT Together’s customer-base is private parties, family and social events. However, Kalsynova said her goal is to move her offerings into the education-sector, providing her services to schools. She said it can make learning fun and innovative.
Crop King Hydro, an all-in-one garden center in Sateena Mall, opened on July 1. The 1,000 square-foot storefront is connected to a vape shop, also owned by Theseus Mendiola.
“First things first, the expansion was based on necessity,” Mendiola said. “I have a half-acre of farming at home, and I do sustainable crops that I can feed my family with. During the pandemic, the planting jumped up even more, so I needed more supplies.”
“I really own my own toy store here,” he said.
The garden center sells at least a dozen different soils, starter-kits for nutrients, meters, pipefittings, pest control from a plant’s roots to its fruits, nutrients, options for organic growers, grow tents, lighting, curing containers and lots of other products.
“Whether you’re growing cannabis or cucumbers, all the nutrients we provide can target different aspect of the plants,” he said. “There’s different blends for different growers.”
But the nutrients the store sells are among the most-purchased items, he said.
In the near future, Mendiola plans on expanding Crop King and taking over the vape shop, relocating that to a different unit in Sateena Mall, if the business takes off as he expects it to.
Even if it doesn’t, he said it’s been worth it, and there’s always a positive side to every story.
“It’s always a gamble to start a new business, especially during the pandemic, but if I don’t sell any of this stuff, it will be used by me,” he said.
In other new business news in the region, Saipan Renal Care, located in Chalan Laulau, opened in April and offers dialysis treatments to its patients; it is a sister company of Priority Care Services, the medical ambulatory service on island. Trove, a store that sells gently used vintage items in Gualo Rai, opened on July 5. Saipan Select, the Northern Mariana Islands’ first cannabis retailer, opened in July also.
On July 23, Kensington Hotel Saipan in San Roque finally re-opened its full-operations, after the more-than-a-year of only partially operating due to the pandemic.
On July 26, Triple J Enterprises Inc. announced the permanent closure of Red Lobster Guam, which had been in business for a little more than two years. See previous stories on www.mbjguam.com for stories on other businesses that have not survived. mbj