Next stop, Caribbean: Jamaican restaurateur envisions Hazel’s Blue Lagoon downtown

  • Junior Williams works to get the space ready for the opening of his new restaurant and nightclub called Hazel’s Blue Lagoon in downtown Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Junior Williams talks about the opening of his new restaurant and night club called Hazel's Blue Lagoon in Amherst. Behind him is a photograph of Hazel, his grandmother, who the restaurant is named after. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Junior Williams and his nephew Patrick Chapman, the co-owners of the new downtown restaurant and nightclub called Hazel’s Blue Lagoon in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Restaurateur Junior Williams in his office with a photo of Hazel, his mother. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette
Monday, December 06, 2021

AMHERST — Junior Williams, a Jamaican immigrant and restaurater, 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 type of atmosphere to Amherst,” Williams said of his plans to bring live music, fashion shows, culturally themed evenings and formal galas to the downtown scene.

His establishment, at 39 and 41 Boltwood Walk, will be split into two distinct environments: a Caribbean-American fine dining restaurant on one side and a bustling 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 a Thanksgiving while Williams attended college.

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

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

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

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

Given that there’s a road named Hazel Avenue in Amherst, he said it’s like his mother’s name is “already etched into Amherst.”

Williams plans to start hosting nights for families and friends this Saturday to “scratch out some of the kinks” before they have their grand opening.

Although he is unsure when Hazel’s Blue Lagoon will be fully open to the public, he shared that there’s a Christmas party and a New Year’s Eve party slated for Dec. 18 and 31, respectively.

The New Year’s Eve event is “going to be kind of like a gala,” he said, which will include “a five-course meal with live entertainment, a singer, and a fashion show.”

Williams hopes to make events like this a yearly tradition that will secure Hazel’s reputation as an Amherst icon. Speaking to the reputation of Antonio’s Pizza as a student favorite, he said, “We want to be known like they are.”

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

He explained that he wants to host themed nights to foster inclusivity for people of all musical tastes and cultural backgrounds.

Some themes he suggested include Spanish music, Indian music, reggae, hip hop, jazz, R&B and oldies. “We’ll also be doing live music and reaching out to performers,” he said of the coming months.

“I love to give back to the community,” Williams said, explaining that he started a tradition of preparing free Thanksgiving meals for people experiencing food insecurity since his first restaurant opened in 2017.

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

Before Williams moved to Springfield from Jamaica when he was 11 years old, he recalled having only three outfits that 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 set up a scholarship fund under the name Hazel’s,” he added, to help out college students. Williams also said he wants to pay homage to local college athletes by putting pictures up to celebrate their achievements.

His personal experience coaching sports and playing football, wrestling, and running track himself at Orange Coast College in California have taught him how important it is to value college athletes.

Since he originally came to the United States alongside his family, he highlighted how important familial closeness is to him.

“My son and my daughter are big inspirations,” Williams said, behind his drive to do good. Also he said his nephew, Patrick Chapman, was a driving force in supporting the restaurant and continues to help with “behind the scenes” work. “Patrick keeps me grounded,” he said.

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