SHTA’s Davis: St. Maarten restaurants flourishing

POSTED: 11/14/13 12:28 PM

St. Maarten / by Jason Lista - “All in all, St. Maarten is still flourishing for the dining that it offers. We offer people great variety,” Valentin Davis of Sheer restaurant said yesterday over the phone when asked about the recent troubles in Curacao’s restaurant sector and if the situation is echoed here. Davis is the St. Maarten Tourism and Hospitality Association’s (SHTA) restaurant representative and a member of its board of directors.

Asked to comment on the recent articles coming out of Curacao Restaurant Association’s (CRA) warning of a major crisis in its own restaurant industry, with possible job losses in the hundreds and potential closures on the horizon, and what the situation was like here in comparison, he replied that he hadn’t read them. Nevertheless, he said he felt confident about the situation here overall. That is the Dutch side at least.

Another restaurateur, wishing to remain anonymous, also felt the same. That, overall, the Dutch side restaurant industry was sound, but that couldn’t be said for its French counterpart.

In Curacao, that also isn’t the case. Despite a paradoxical increase in visitors to the island, Curacao’s restaurants have seen a decline in patrons the CRA reported recently in local media.

St. Maarten’s price is structure is varied and different within the local restaurant industry, he explained, “offering a variety of restaurants” to visitors and locals alike. From restaurants on the higher end of the price scale, like Sheer restaurant, to the lolos and food trucks that dot the island, people are offered a diversity of cuisine and price points to choose from. It is one of the island’s strengths.

But he was quick to point out that the restaurant business is also notoriously fickle. “Restaurants are, perhaps, the most difficult business,” he said. “Banks are not keen to finance them.” He explained that they are vulnerable to inflation and are often at the mercy of the tourist season. “We are in a seasonal business, that’s the way the trend is and we have to ride it,” Davis went on, speaking of his own business experience.

He said that St. Maarten underwent a shift away from mostly higher end dining typical in the 70s and 80s to a more casual approach. “Most diners are looking for something fun and casual,” he said. “What St. Maarten offers is variety,” he repeated, which partially explains its success.

Philipsburg, he recalled, used to be the dining capital of the Dutch side, with many of the best restaurants located there in the past. “That has shifted to Simpson Bay” and beyond. Davis feels the issue has a lot to do with parking and lighting. Most Philipsburg restaurants now close before sunset because of this.

Yet Davis remains optimistic. “In time I see it happening,” he said of better parking and lighting.

He also envisions a time when St. Maarten would host large scale food festivals, for example, involving everyone, including hotels, and “promoted through the tourism office” abroad. It would feature friendly competition among local chefs and bartenders to bolster camaraderie and improve levels of service.

Unlike Curacao, however, St. Maarten does not have its own full-fledged restaurant association. Davis is a representative for restaurants on the larger hospitality association that is the SHTA, which has a broader advocacy mandate spanning hotels, the marine sector, and other businesses and organizations involved in the island’s hospitality and tourism industry.

“I think we should have a restaurant association,” he commented in the end. “It’s something I will pursue.”



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