Young, glamorous and successful, Cynthia and Joey Hew make an impressive partnership: both have thriving careers – he is the Cayman Islands Minister for Commerce, Planning and Infrastructure, she is the owner of luxury kitchen retail store Bon Vivant – but in addition to their demanding jobs, the couple are raising a happy, balanced, blended family, and still find time for fun, fitness and the sharing of food.
Although raised in different countries, Cynthia and Joey both come from large, close-knit families that were nurturing and supportive, and instilled in them sound values.
Cynthia grew up in Louisiana, just across the river from New Orleans, with her extended Caymanian family all living on the same road. It was a family where, rather than go out for a meal, cousins, aunts and uncles would go round to each other’s homes to eat together.
Her father was a policeman and her mother worked in administrative roles, although they launched various businesses too, and aspired to live by their own rules. Whilst their strong work ethic no doubt rubbed off on her, it was her aunt and uncle next door who taught her about being accepting, forgiving, and non-judgmental. It was also they that introduced her to the joys of cooking. Much of her childhood was spent at their house, where Caymanian food was always being prepared.
“My uncle was a chef; he loved to cook,” she recalls. “He had a garden with sugar cane and vegetables and this outdoor kitchen. I’d sit there and watch all day. He had a knack for pulling vegetables from the garden and creating these masterpieces. He never had a recipe, he just knew.”
Meanwhile in Cayman, Joey, the youngest of seven, spent his childhood surrounded by a big clan of siblings and cousins. Although his mother is from Cayman Brac and his father is Jamaican, his paternal grandfather was Chinese and that culture prevailed at home.
“We would meet every Sunday morning for lunch and that’s when we would share whatever we were doing with our family. We had to get the family’s blessing, including that of the extended family in Jamaica, before you did anything like buy a car, or a house, or decide what school to go to.”
His mother, he says, would have done everything for her children if she could. As it was, both parents worked two jobs for many years, eventually building their own business, Commodity Marketing (which evolved into Hew’s Hotel and Restaurant Supplies and Hew’s Janitorial Services), and taking over MacDonald’s restaurant.
“Mom worked days in a bank, then she would come home and feed us, then go back out and clean,” Joey remembers. “Dad too worked days and at night he ran the restaurant. But not a day went by when we did not have breakfast cooked for us.”
Despite the heavy workload, both were dedicated to giving back to the community. His mother was an avid member of the Pink Ladies and volunteered with the Red Cross, and his father organised all manner of sporting events: football matches, swim and track meets – activities for which he was recently awarded a CBE – and was also a long term member and former president of the Lions Club.
“There are no two ways about it. My greatest strength in getting elected in 2013 was my parents’ name,” Joey says. “People knew them, that they were honest, hardworking people and had tons of integrity. That’s what they gave all of us – and that’s the best gift you can give your kids.”
Given the importance that sharing meals together had for both Cynthia and Joey in their early lives, and their mutual love of cooking, it is perhaps not surprising that the two would end up working in a related field.
Although Joey started a college course with a view to working with animals, he shifted his focus on helping in the family businesses, and was instrumental in expanding Hew’s Hotel and Restaurant Supplies into a full service sanitation and equipment merchant.
Cynthia’s first career was in journalism and she hosted the TV show Daybreak for 12 years. In 2007 however, she decided to set a new course and, together with Joey, took a leap into the unknown, opening Bon Vivant Kitchen Studio.
The timing was far from ideal. The country was in the middle of a recession, they had just had a child, Jacob, and at the same time Josh, Joey’s son from his first marriage, had moved in with them, whilst his sister was receiving medical treatment in Miami.
Running a business together was another new dynamic to adjust to, but they found their differing approaches to be complementary.
“I think we’re a good balance. We bring different perspectives,” Cynthia says. “Whereas I’m ‘let’s go, it’s fine, we’ll get through that wall’ Joey will stand back and look at the wall – for a few days – and he’ll take the time to think it through, create some clarity and make suggestions. Sometimes it’s important to push through, other times it’s important to get that differing approach.”
Over the years, Bon Vivant has gone from strength to strength, expanding into cooking classes, kitchen design and more. It’s a celebration of kitchens as the heart of the home and the unifying power of cooking and breaking bread together.
Needless to say, a lot of their family life revolves around food too, whether it is dining out, cooking together or talking over a meal. “It’s important for us to sit down all together whether it’s for breakfast or for dinner, so that the kids know there are two of us,” Cynthia notes. “We have this game, Table Topics, with questions that get you talking. So they know home is a safe place and that it’s ok to talk. It’s important to keep that line of communication open, and let kids know you are available.”
As a youngster, Joey often tagged along when his father was doing the rounds in his capacity as a Lion, whether it was distributing Christmas gifts or performing eye tests. So as an adult, he was in no doubt he wanted to follow in this father’s footsteps, giving back to the community he loved.
His father, however, encouraged him to explore what other service organisations may interest him. And so it was that Joey became a Rotarian – a time he recalls as being very rewarding – at one time serving as president of the Rotary Club of Grand Cayman and Assistant District Governor for the Cayman Islands.
But that was only the beginning. With his business experience and knowledge of the restaurant industry, he went on to sit on various committees and boards. He was deputy chairman of the Trade and Business Licensing Board, president of the Restaurant Association and later the Cayman Islands Tourism Association when they merged, and was appointed president of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, just three days before Hurricane Ivan ravaged the Island.
For someone with an innate desire to help not only the people he knew, but also those he had never met, moving into politics was perhaps the logical next step – something that would enable him to reach even more people.“Joey is probably the only person I know, other than my aunt Teen, who will do for others well before themselves,” Cynthia says. “And it doesn’t even faze him.”
Joey recalls the moment he made the decision to step into the political arena: “I was at a business dinner at the end of 2012 when I received a text message informing me of the fifth murder to take place in the space of a week. That was when it dawned on me that we didn’t have a real religious or political leader – no statesman or stateswoman – for young people to look up to.”
It wasn’t a decision he took lightly. He knew it would impact his career and home life, and that the demands on his time would be huge, but he also knew he had the unwavering support of his wife.“We discussed it and we made a contractual agreement,” Joey says, “the most important thing being that we continued to make sure we scheduled time for each other.”
A career in politics (which involves visiting constituents, often at weekends), a thriving business, two children and a blended family: it’s a lot of balls to keep in the air. It takes careful planning and scheduling to keep it all running smoothly.
Joey admits that sometimes he over-promises on what he can do, because he genuinely wants to do it all. “I’m learning this slowly, but it’s better to be honest about your time and make sure that you schedule another time to be with your family, rather than leaving it wide open.”
For Cynthia, a spreadsheet holds the key to a chaos-free home life. In this spreadsheet she keeps all the essential details of family life: each person’s weekly schedule is in there so she knows who needs to be where and when, plus she keeps meal plans and shopping lists to make the food preparation easier. “It’s about knowing what I can do ahead of time, so that I can carve out time for the unexpected. At work I’ll say, okay, there are three major things I need to accomplish today; that way I leave my days fairly open, because something will always pop up.”
Daily exercise is also crucial for her to maintain balance and clarity. “My mind does not stop. And sometimes neither does my body,” she says. “Running gives me some freedom where I can expend that energy and my head slows down so that I can focus on three things, as opposed to 20.”
Even if it’s raining and she knows she will get wet, she makes sure she gets her daily fix. Rather than thinking about how unpleasant running in the rain will be, she focuses on how good it will feel when it’s over. Her philosophy – which applies to all areas of her life – is: focus on the destination, rather than the journey to get there.
Cynthia and Joey Hew don’t claim to have the answers to perfect parenting or seamlessly blending their professional and family lives. Like every family, they are working it out along the way. But if they have any advice for other parents who may be struggling, it’s this: there is no written manual for married life and parenthood. Just be patient, be considerate, be kind. And remember that love and happiness don’t come from material things.
Joshua (20) is Joey’s son from his first marriage. Joey and Sabrina divorced when Joshua was two, and both remarried. Sabrina then married Woody Foster and had a daughter, Charlie, and Joey and Cynthia had a son, Jacob (now 10).
“Josh initially lived with his mother, but when Charlie was diagnosed with leukaemia she and her mom had to move to Miami for two years, so Joshua came to live with us,” Cynthia explains. “Joshua has two solid families as a result and Jacob and Charlie have an amazing relationship, they do sleepovers and are great friends.”
We sat down with both Joshua and Jacob to get their take on their family:
Q: What words would you use to describe Joey and Cynthia?
Joshua: For my Dad, humble, traditional, loving and understanding. For Cynthia, creative, hardworking, driven.
Jacob: For my Dad, adventurous, reliable, fun and fatherly. For my Mum, kind, awesome, grateful, fun and motherly!
Q: How would you describe your brother?
Joshua: He’s goofy, funny and probably my biggest fan. For three years he actually pretended to like football just because I played. He would come to watch me practice and every time I looked over he would pretend to also be playing. When I looked away again he would immediately stop!
Jacob: He’s annoying when he teases me, but actually he’s also really nice and caring – like, he helped me set up my Xbox for my birthday.
Q: What is one experience that is etched in your memory?
Joshua: Probably Hurricane Ivan. I was 6 or 7 at the time so I’d never seen anything like that. I had to grow up a bit faster than most kids of that age and take care of myself, because everyone was busy doing something else.
Jacob: My 10th birthday party. We went around on a two storey pontoon boat, we saw the Wreck of the Ten Sails, jumped off the boat, played at the sandbar and snorkelled around the reef. It was great fun!
Read about different classes on-Island for kids including cooking classes at Bon Vivant here.
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