Jeffrey T. Barabe
President and CEO, Oceania Television Network
Owner, Roll ‘Em Productions, Elilai Restaurant & Bar and Palau Central
By Bernadette H. Carreon
Jeffrey T. Barabe has accomplished much in his 15 years living in Palau, making him a businessman of varied hats and titles.
In 2001, Barabe’s wife, Kassi Berg, moved to Palau to work as the legal counsel for the Palau Senate. The couple’s plan was to live in the island nation for a year. Seven years later, Barabe had made a name for himself in the business community, and they decided they were in Palau to stay.
Barabe, president and CEO of Oceania Television Network and co-owner of Roll ‘Em Productions, is also the owner of Elilai Restaurant & Bar. Additionally, he acquired the lease in January of the former New Koror Hotel land and has renovated it into Palau Central Hotel.
His love of movies and film started when he was growing up in Miami, where he had a small studio in his garage where he made stop-motion animations with 8mm film.
“I founded the Southridge Movie Makers Club in high school and then took a break from college when I received an internship with [producer Ronald M.] Bozman and Kyle McCarthy on a movie named ‘Miami Blues,’” Barabe says.
He fondly remembers one day on the set when actor Alec Baldwin, who was hanging out with the drivers, threw him a football. As he caught the ball, he says, his boss called him over and he thought he was fired. Instead, that moment started a career for him in the movie industry.
Since then he worked as a set designer, prop master, production assistant and coffee boy before moving to Hollywood, where he worked as a personal assistant for notable actors like Robert De Niro and on sets for movies including “Silence of the Lambs.”
He eventually became one of the youngest members of the Directors Guild of America.
“This experience gave me an appreciation for organization and management,” Barabe says.
Years after moving to Palau, Barabe began Roll ‘Em Productions “because it was what I knew how to do and Palau didn’t have anything like it,” he says.
Partnering with Jill Senior, now the program director for Oceania Television Network, the production company created the first Palau Visitors Channel. They worked out of a small room on antiquated equipment, he remembers.
What started as only a dream when he was a young man Barabe says developed into something much bigger over the years. Roll ‘Em Productions had developed so much local and regional content, he and his partner were able to start a local television station that eventually expanded to air regionally in the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.
“It is now run by a very competent all-Palauan staff that hosts international production companies, creates Micronesian content and produces awareness campaigns and events. I am proud we have made possible what many said was only a dream,” he says.
A successful production company owner, Barabe did not want to stop there as he felt there was another side to him, a side he wanted to pursue — becoming a restaurateur.
Elilai Restaurant, according to Barabe, was an opportunity presented to him to bring first-class fine dining to Palau.
“I had worked at a couple of restaurants in high school, but this was a big leap into the hospitality industry. I do love challenges,” he says. “My main focus was to get the staff inspired and to bring the quality of the experience back to where it should be. We changed the employee compensation system, the menu and added some glitz to the design and put money into upgrades for kitchen equipment and repairs,” he says.
Following the restaurant around, Barabe is faced with another new challenge: owning one of the newest hotels in the island nation — Palau Central Hotel.
Jumping on the bandwagon of Palau’s tourism surge, Barabe says he found “a classic property in the center of downtown Koror that could be revived into a modern city hotel.”
“This project held the possibility of using my creative, business and hospitality skills in a perfect trio. I have a few tirelessly dedicated partners — Scott Slagel and Johnson Iechad — and a talented team of architects and designers from New York’s Griffin Studios and a U.S.-based hotel hospitality consulting group who are all helping to make this dream a reality,” he says.
Although the hotel is now in operation with bookings until 2017, Palau Central will have an official opening in March.
When asked what business advice he could give to aspiring entrepreneurs, Barabe has two words: commitment and kindness.
“Think long and hard about where you want to go and how you are going to get there. Once you have the perfect plan, do not stop until you reach the peak — and remember that along the way, it is people that will help you get there,” he says.
He says his road to success would not be possible without the help of his wife and his parents.
For now he is focusing on the hotel, but he is setting his sights toward his next venture, producing a movie or television series in Palau.
“With all of the international media outlets begging for content, the time is ripe,” he says. “I figure with the resources available in Palau and my contacts in the film industry, we can pull off a quality film that showcases Palau and Micronesia for the world to enjoy.”
Favorite app: The Joy of Cooking
Reading material of choice: News is my addiction; international and business news are my focus. I still read the Hollywood Reporter and American Cinematographer for fun.
Last vacation: Tokyo DisneySea and Disneyland for my wife’s birthday.
Coffee preference: Mocha Frappuccino
Dream job as a kid: An astronaut. The explorers from Apollo 11 who landed on the moon were my heroes. I got to have dinner with Buzz Aldrin in Palau — what a treat.