Big Lee: Puerto Plata’s Most Loved Expat and Restaurateur

Meet Puerto Plata’s lovable and local celebrity Big Lee Peak. Bored with his life in the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, Big Lee was within 3 years of retiring when he decided to start taking vacations to help him decide where to spend his retirement. “I saw a ’60 Minutes’ segment on retiring outside the US where your money can go further. I went to Cancun where I joined a timeshare and then to Puerto Plata and Punta Cana. I’m so glad that I chose Puerto Plata; it is a real town with real people with real culture and history.”

Big Lee is the proud owner of the very popular Big Lee’s Beach Bar, which is located on the Malecón and overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. Big Lee’s Beach Bar employs 11 locals and a loyal dog named Spot.

After moving to Puerto Plata, what inspired you to open a restaurant/bar, and how did you decide on the type of restaurant/bar, as well as the area?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABig Lee: I’m going to give you some history first. I met a girl, came back in 6 months and in 1 year I retired. My kids graduated & moved across the US. Might as well move down since the relationship didn’t work out. I’m bored out of my mind after 2.5 years of just sitting around on the computer and watching cable TV. I started talking to people in the local watering hole about my interest in opening a sports bar. The cook heard that I was interested in opening a bar and said that she wanted to work for me because the manager at her bar wasn’t her favorite. I spent 3 months looking for the right location. I wanted to find 2 buildings together, one for the tourists to watch the ocean and one for the expats to sit on the street.

We didn’t start off with food until after one year to see if the business will succeed. I know I succeeded when I know that I have two hundred reviews on TripAdvisor with 4.9 stars. Everyone who has rated loves our fish & chips or our burgers & fries. Not a restaurant but bar with a grill with a very limited menu.   We do 14 dishes and I try to do them spectacularly. Our fish is bought every day, sea bass, but it’s frozen because it’s caught deep at sea. Everything else is prepared fresh. We peel & slice every potato for fries and we make homemade tartar sauce.  Every day we buy meat, potatoes, chicken and start serving at 9 am until 8 pm. We’re starting to branch out with a few specials every now and again to please as many as possible.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe majority of Big Lee’s clientele are Canadian and American expatriates with 20% Dominican locals frequenting his establishment as well. “We play soft classic rock from around the world from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. For three and a half years that we’ve been open, we’ve been rate the number one bar in Puerto Plata and the number one bar in the Dominican Republic.” Big Lee’s Beach Bar is also rated #2 on TripAdvisor’s list of Top Things to Do in Puerto Plata.

Big Lee’s road to becoming the number one bar in the Dominican Republic is also a story of finding love. The cook mentioned above who was not too thrilled about working for her previous boss is now his fiancé.

Big Lee: So, I would love to finish telling you the story about how the girl that said she would never date me, but only work for me. I found the place, opened it up, called her and hired her. I was smitten with her. Worked with me for 3 months, then finally hugged and kissed me. We’re more than 3 years later, we’re engaged and we had a baby.

[Laughing] My vasectomy didn’t work so we are proud. We are moving across the street from her parents in a currently remodeled house. We’re getting married at the end of this year or the beginning of next. She’s now my boss because I can’t own [the bar] because it’s city property.

My baby is 1 year, 4 months. Her name is Marilee. My fiancé’s name is Mariela and she wanted a combination of Mariela and Lee. Thank goodness it was a girl because there was no combination for a boy!

We’ve touched on bits and pieces on your secret recipe to success. Do you think it’s you as the celebrity or combination of location/celebrity, the food, the atmosphere…what is your key to success?

Big Lee: [I’m] always around people. If I was going to open a business, I want to read people, shake their hand, thank them for stopping, say thank you for coming. I can’t imagine running a business any other way. There’s so much competition; places to eat and drink. I want [people] to come to my bar and I want them to return. Our food is spectacular. It’s as good of a cheeseburger as you’re ever going to get around the world. I search for the best meat, bun, lettuce, tomato, pickle. The food is excellent. I had to go through all the different hotdogs at all the grocery stores here just to find one that is edible. It’s spectacular. It’s a jumbo hot dog that tastes like home.

It’s a combination of me (the celebrity), and greeting everyone and the food but the views are spectacular. We are less than 100 feet from the ocean. Two islands are right off our shore. There is a statue of Neptune. I have a row of flags, looks like the United Nations. People find their flag and are really excited. If they don’t find their flag [here], they go find it and bring me one. We are within 2 miles of Mount Isabel De Torres, which is just gorgeous.

In addition to his busy schedule running his bar, Big Lee is also involved in philanthropic endeavors. In 2014 alone, Big Lee helped supply 40 children with back to school clothing and school supplies. With the help of donations and his ever-increasing popularity, in December 2014 Big Lee took 16 children and 2 mothers Christmas shopping. He also helps out the local dog association by helping to organize over 1000 street cats and dogs.

So, for those of you who are wondering, we certainly had to ask!

Where did the name Big Lee come from?

Big Lee: I was 325 lbs, wearing a 4X shirt, 50-inch belt with my belly hanging over; I was a huge man. I weigh 250 lbs now, there are no drive-thru’s, everything is fresh, not processed. [Laughing] They tease me and say that I need to rename it Skinny Lee’s or get the red circle with the slash through it to go over “Big” — formally known as “Big Lee’s!”

What advice can you give an expat who would like to open a restaurant/bar of their own?  

Big Lee: If you are going to open a business, no matter where but especially here in the Dominican Republic, put your entire heart and personality into it and do it with a 100% effort.  That is what I have done and it has worked.

Big Lee plans to expand to other locations throughout the Dominican Republic and with the first Carnival Cruise ships expected in October 2015, he will become even more busy. Big Lee’s Beach Bar is fast becoming a brand. Check him out in an upcoming JetBlue inflight magazine.

Puerto Plata GAMECHANGERS: José Manuel Cobles

Inside Puerto Plata’s series on “Puerto Plata GAMECHANGERSwill highlight and give well-deserved praise to amazing individuals, past and present, who have had a tremendous impact on Puerto Plata and its surrounding areas. We will be featuring both revered and controversial figures and look forward to stimulating dialogue from you, our readers!

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Our series on key figures in Puerto Plata’s history begins with a tribute to the venerable José Cobles! Born in 1923, José Cobles is affectionately and appropriately nicknamed ‘Puerto Plata’ after his birthplace. Influenced as a child by relatives who were musicians, Puerto Plata was always drawn to the music and rhythms of his homeland. However, it wasn’t until 1947 at the age of 24, that he was able to purchase his first guitar. It was during his early 20s while living in Santiago, Dominican Republic that he attained his beloved nickname.

Puerto Plata’s sound was an eclectic mix of bolero, guitar merengue, and Dominican son and for many years he performed in the underground music scene in Santiago, playing primarily in cabarets and brothels. This was not entirely by choice; the 30-year dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo enforced merengue as the national music of the Dominican Republic. The merengue of Trujillo’s reign was primarily played with the accordion and other string instruments rather than the guitar typically used in ‘country’ merengue. Since Puerto Plata’s style of music was suppressed by the dictatorship, recordings of guitar music were not allowed, thereby forcing musicians of the time to make their living in other trades. Puerto Plata worked as a carpenter and despite the imposed musical suppression he continued to master his craft.

With the assassination of Rafael Trujillo, the early 1960s brought well-needed change in the cultural climate of the Dominican Republic. Although not fully embraced immediately, guitar music slowly began to regain its popularity within the country.

Puerto Plata the GAMECHANGER

The music of Puerto Plata and other musicians who played during his earlier years was eventually given an official name. Now known as bachata, a very popular form of Latin American music enjoyed by millions to this very day, Puerto Plata is considered a pioneer and a living legend of this musical genre.

What is even more exemplary: Puerto Plata released his first recorded album in 2007 at the wonderful age of 83. Entitled “Mujer de Cabaret”, his debut album is reminiscent of a stifled time in Dominican cultural history. Composed during the Trujillo years and released in 2009, the classical love songs in Puerto Plata’s second album, “Casita de Campo”, are a compilation of beautiful, romantic lyrics and lively dance tunes.

José ‘Puerto Plata’ Cobles’ talent and resilience cannot be mistaken. Both of his internationally acclaimed albums are testimonies to his craft and now, at 92 years of age, Puerto Plata continues to play his beloved guitar and gift us with his music.

Dascha Polanco: Hollywood’s New It Girl To Star In David O. Russell’s Film “JOY”

DPHollywood has a new “It Girl”, and its Dascha Polanco! This incredibly talented Latina actress has taken Hollywood by the horns while capturing the hearts of fans worldwide. Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Brooklyn, NY and Miami, FL, Dascha Polanco has encountered a whirlwind of fame almost overnight.

Ms. Polanco has worked on projects such as the 2011 film “Unforgettable”, had a guest walk-on role on “NYC22″ in 2012 and then landed the role of Carmel in “Gimme Shelter” in 2013, where she played a bipolar young single mother living in a religious shelter opposite Vanessa Hudgens. She has also lended her talent to David Mamet’s stage production of “Oleanna”.

DPDascha Polanco, a self-described Nueva Latina, and the cast of “Orange Is The New Black”, won a 2015 SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series. In 2014, Ms. Polanco and cast mate Selenis Leyva accepted a special achievement in television ALMA Award for “Orange Is The New Black”.

Ms. Polanco will be starring alongside heavy hitters Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, and Édgar Ramírez in the feature film, “JOY”. Directed by David O. Russell, “JOY” is based on the true rags to riches story of Joy Mangano, a single mother of three, who worked multiple jobs to make ends meet until she invented the self-wringing Miracle Mop, which launched her to Home Shopping Network fame. Ms. Polanco is starring as Jackie, who is Joy’s best friend, and a loyal and fearless one at that. Jackie remains by Joy’s side by helping her start the mop company and supporting her through every struggle she encounters.

DP2For your immediate Dascha Polanco fix, you can watch her star with Adam Sandler when Tom McCarthy’s, “The Cobbler” hits theaters on March 13. For all “Orange Is The New Black” fans, you can catch Ms. Polanco when Season 3 airs on June 12 on Netflix.

Make sure to stay tuned for Inside Puerto Plata’s exclusive interview with Dascha Polanco, when we talk about Orange Is The New Black, her successful acting career, charitable causes close to her heart and her Dominican heritage.

It is no surprise to the acting community that Dascha Polanco is being recognized and is making a name for herself in Hollywood. All of our very best to Dascha Polanco!

All media inquiries can be directed to Kanessa Tixe, Dynamic Theories, kanessa@dynamictheories.com.

Inside Puerto Plata Shows Hometown Pride for “Orange is the New Black”


OITNB

On Sunday, January 25, 2015, the ever popular Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” brought home three SAG or Screen Actors Guild Awards. Inside Puerto Plata would like to shine a spotlight on four actresses in “Orange is the New Black” with ties to the Dominican Republic. These women of color bring great pride to their country through their work in this diverse comedy of Latinas, Blacks, Whites, transgenders and other group’s perspectives of life in a women’s prison.

“Orange is the New Black” is based on a memoir written by Piper Kerman. The series delves into the characters’ lives both in and outside prison and reveals real stories of life in prison in a comical and satirical way.

Dasha

 

Dascha Polanco is inmate Dayanara Diaz. Born in the Dominican Republic, Polanco always aspired to be an actress but was unsure of auditioning for acting jobs because of her weight. She was overjoyed when she was chosen to be part of this virtually all female cast. Ms. Polanco plays a woman who falls in love with a prison guard and becomes pregnant while imprisoned.

 

Jackie

 

Jackie Cruz plays Flaca Gonzales. Cruz is a Dominican American singer, songwriter and actress who has entertained audiences her whole life. Her character makes audiences laugh as she attempts to man the kitchen at the prison. Flaca is a different sort of character because of her taste in music, which makes her stand out, along with her deep, black eyeliner, and tattoos of teardrops between her eyes.

 

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Brooklyn born Jessica Pimental is Maria Ruiz whose character plays a pregnant inmate. Pimental, whose parents immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic, graduated from the High School for the Performing Arts in New York City. Pimental is Latina with Taíno heritage. She’s also a musician and singer in two metal bands.

 

LAURA

 

Born in the Bronx, NY and raised by Dominican and Cuban parents, Selenis Leyva is inmate Gloria Mendoza whose character has the best one-liners of anybody in the show. Mendoza is both sassy and intelligent in this role and runs the kitchen as the head Latina in charge. Ms. Leyva isn’t new to acting, having starred in many series in her career, however she has definitely made her mark on “Orange is the New Black”.

 

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Laura Gómez was born in New Jersey and raised in Santo Domingo. Ms. Gómez plays Blanca Flores in OITNB, a character who is considered insane by her fellow inmates due to her constant “self talking” and disheveled appearance. As the series unfolds, it is revealed that Blanca’s “self talking” is actually her talking on a concealed cell pone. Ms. Gómez credits her journey in the acting field to her years growing up in Santo Domingo, a place that she calls her roots.

It is exciting to watch these women as they make great strides in their careers. Inside Puerto Plata loves the work of these Dominicanas who are great actresses in “Orange is the New Black”! Their work is challenging and amazing and rightfully recognized through the SAG Awards, which honors the best achievements in film and television performances.

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