Downtown Amherst will have a new nightclub and restaurant

AMHERST — Junior Williams, a Jamaican immigrant and restaurateur, plans to bring a taste of the Caribbean to downtown Amherst this month by opening a new restaurant and nightclub, Hazel’s Blue Lagoon.

“We’re trying to bring a different kind of atmosphere to Amherst,” Williams said of her plans to bring live music, fashion shows, cultural-themed parties and official galas to the stage at the downtown.

Its establishment, at 39 and 41 Boltwood Walk, will be divided into two distinct environments: a gourmet Caribbean-American restaurant on one side and a lively 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 Thanksgiving in the 1990s while Williams was attending college.

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

In 2017, Williams opened her first restaurant, Hazel’s Kitchen, in a small location on Chicopee Street in Chicopee. “We passed this place in seconds,” he said, prompting the need to move to 76 Main St. in Chicopee. During this time, he also opened another business, Courtyard Café, just 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 kind of felt like it was meant to be,” Williams said.

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

Williams plans to start hosting family and friends nights this Saturday to “work out some of the glitches” before their grand opening. The company is expected to hire cooks, servers and other staff, although an exact number of staff is yet to be determined.

While he doesn’t know when Hazel’s Blue Lagoon — which is located in a space that once housed a nightclub called Lit Amherst and Fire and Water Yoga Studio — will be fully open to the public, he shared that there’s a Christmas and a New Year’s Eve party scheduled for December 18 and 31, respectively.

The New Year’s event “will be a bit 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 an annual tradition that will secure Hazel’s reputation as an Amherst icon. Speaking of Antonio’s Pizza’s reputation as a student favorite, he said, “We want to be known like them.”

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

He explained that he wanted to organize theme nights to promote the inclusion of 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 artists,” he said of the coming months.

“I love giving back to the community,” Williams said, explaining that he’s started a tradition of cooking free Thanksgiving meals for people who are food insecure since opening his first restaurant in 2017.

Coming from a humble background himself, he said he knew such generosity could mean the world to people.

Before Williams moved from Jamaica to Springfield at the age of 11, he remembered having only three outfits he would need to wash every day: one for school, one for church and one for the garden. “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 start a scholarship fund under the name Hazel’s,” he added, to help students. Williams also said he wanted to honor local college athletes by posting photos to celebrate their accomplishments.

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

Since coming to the United States alongside his family, he has emphasized how important family closeness is to him.

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

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

Jerry C. Greiner