Year round, Tortuga's rum-soaked confection sells by the thousands both locally and overseas. Such demand delights Captain Robert Hamaty and his wife, Carlene Jackson Hamaty, founders of Tortuga Rum Company Ltd.
Tortuga has grown dramatically since it was started in 1984. The following year, owners Robert and Carlene Hamaty introduced Cayman's first private label rums: Tortuga Gold and Tortuga Light. Today, the family owned and operated company is the largest retail and duty free liquor business in the Cayman Islands.The Tortuga Rum Company label has grown to include more than a dozen registered blends of liquors and liqueurs, led by its Premium Label 12-Year Old Tortuga Rum for connoisseurs.
The company's original Tortuga Rum Cake was introduced in October 1987 and is now Cayman's top selling souvenir and number one export. The cake is available in over ten different flavours. Tortuga has a growing line of private label gourmet products that fills the company's colour catalogue: from premium blended coffees, honey and Tortuga Rum Flavoured gourmet chocolate fudge to award-winning Caribbean hot and savoury sauces.
This story began in 1948 when Robert Hamaty was born in Jamaica's sugar belt with rum in his blood - figuratively speaking. He grew up driving a tractor in his attorney father's cane fields, cutting sugar cane and hauling it to market. Even today, he admits "I never got the smell of pure molasses out of my nose.”
But Robert's real passion was flying. After graduating from flight school he joined Air Jamaica and at age 24 became its youngest DC-9 Captain. A year later, he became Air Jamaica's youngest Captain flying a transatlantic route at the controls of a DC-8. In 1978 he joined Cayman Airways and rose to the rank of Chief Pilot. While flying charters on the Bermuda route, Captain Hamaty became intrigued by the number of bottles of duty free "Bermuda Rum" passengers carried onboard. Knowing that Bermuda, like Cayman, has no indigenous sugar industry or rum distilleries, he did some research. It turned out "Bermuda" rum was actually blended West Indian rum, bottled elsewhere, imported to Bermuda and sold legally under a private label - a clever idea with tremendous appeal for tourists.
About that time, he met Carlene Jackson, a Cayman Airways inflight supervisor. This Caymanian lady shared his entrepreneurial spirit and business sense and became his wife and business partner in 1981. Carlene also had a generations-old family recipe for rum cake, which wasn't part of the original Tortuga business plan.
In 1984, while still with Cayman Airways, the couple ignored local skeptics and started Tortuga Rum Company Ltd. with Cayman's first private label rums: Tortuga Gold and Tortuga Light, both registered blends of fine Jamaican and Barbados rums. The Hamatys hoped to capitalise on Cayman's rapidly growing cruise ship tourism industry and lack of duty free liquor outlets for departing passengers. This was already a lucrative business in other Caribbean islands, yet practically untouched in Cayman.
The company started out in a tiny office on North Church Street without a warehouse. The first Tortuga Duty Free Liquor store opened in 1987 in George Town within walking distance from the cruise ship terminal. By the end of that year, Tortuga had become a licensed wholesale distributor. The Tortuga Rum Cake story began later that year.
The original Tortuga Rum Cake recipe is a genuine family tradition, passed down through generations of Jacksons from Savannah, Grand Cayman. It was created long before modern kitchen conveniences and cake mixes, when Caymanians had Spartan pantries and relied on ingenuity and resourcefulness. For years, Carlene baked her rum cakes at home for special occasions. They were a pleasure enjoyed only by special friends and family.
Finally, friends who ran successful food-related businesses in other Caribbean countries convinced Carlene to test the local market and make the rum cake part of Tortuga's line. In October 1987 her cake appeared on the dessert menu of a local restaurant as Tortuga Rum Cake - and was instant hit.
Word spread rapidly and soon residents were ordering whole cakes for special occasions and gobbling up smaller portions as fast as they appeared on shelves. The demand became so great that by 1990, Tortuga expanded with a 1700- square foot commercial bakery at its small headquarters and bonded warehouse in Grand Cayman's Airport Industrial Park. The Tortuga Rum Cake earned a place in rum history as the Caribbean's first commercially produced rum cake.
The original recipe has never been revealed and has remained essentially unchanged for four generations. Each cake is individually hand-glazed with a rich rum sauce before being vacuum packed.
Tortuga is now a global brand name, appearing at retail outlets in over 400 cities in 28 states in the USA. The cake is carried in boutiques onboard major cruise lines in the Caribbean, Alaska and Europe. In addition, Tortuga Rum Cakes and other Tortuga products are now available throughout the Caribbean and Mexico at leading retail shops.
Since the beginning, in 1984, Tortuga has grown to be one of the largest Retailer and Wholesaler in the Cayman Islands. With 14 stores, Tortuga strive to provide the best retail experience for beers, wines, spirits, and world-famous rum cakes in the Cayman Islands. Tortuga distribute 400 quality brands to over 300 businesses across the islands. These brands include Coca-Cola, Robert Mondavi Winery, Flor de Caña, Stoli, Blanton's, and Teremana Tequila.