‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’ is more than a Jimmy Buffett song title; it’s a lifestyle for these St. Maarten residents.
Atlanta restaurant brokers Eric and Robin Gagnon recently traveled to St. Maarten to relax on the white sandy beaches and enjoy the ocean breezes. Ever watchful of the restaurant industry, they were surprised at the number of U.S., Canadian, French and English natives they observed who had relocated to this tropical island to serve up their own version of cheeseburgers in paradise.
This dynamic duo of restaurant brokerage were recently introduced to the meaning of the word ‘expat” when they subscribed to EscapeArtist’s world renowned ezine, Escape From America. To the Gagnon’s, the word ‘expat’ sounded a bit nefarious and they thought that ‘expats” might refer to people who were on the run, but instead, they learned that ‘expat’ is a term used for people pursuing a dream of living outside of their native country and realizing what we call an “Escapeartist Dream.” The Gagnon’s recent trip to St. Maarten opened their eyes to the awesome opportunity to help people with their restaurant and business acquisitions internationally, and they have decided to realize their Escapeartist Dream by partnering with the largest website in the world for international living.
Next Stop? Paradise!
What causes someone to take the plunge and buy a restaurant thousands of miles from their native land? Atlanta restaurant broker Eric Gagnon interviewed many expats and found remarkable consistency in their responses.
- On the top of the list of reasons to own and operate a restaurant in paradise is the lifestyle afforded by the choice.
- According to most, making the decision to buy a restaurant was the most stressful part of the overall experience. Once they’d made their decision, they knew it was the right one for them.
- They reported that it was much easier to own a restaurant in their ‘new home’ than operating one in their native country.
- Experienced restaurant operators from countries like the U.S., Canada or Britain are accustomed to a high-demand industry with stressful operations. In their new location, chefs cook up their creations on ‘island time.’
- They found a certain level of indifference to service on demand, and lightening fast waiters when diners are surrounded by tropical beauty and they’ve reset their inner clock to paradise plus or minus. Customers are far more relaxed and prepared to allow the chef the time needed to prepare their meals properly.
- Expat owners living in St. Maarten mentioned their sense of freedom from oversight and regulation. Most expats mentioned they were from highly regulated countries where the burden of inspection took center stage while the cuisine was pushed aside. Chefs were thrilled to have their focus back on the food and dining experience they want to provide to their customers.
- Restaurant owners were passionate about the food they served. Owning a restaurant on a tropical island brought back the pleasure of the palate without the oversight of legal regulations.
- The final reason they discovered that people bought and operated a restaurant as an expat was the desire to get back to basics and enjoy their life and work. For many expats, there is a fundamental human need for a simpler lifestyle. Restaurants can serve up flavors without being pretentious while forgoing the critic’s opinion. Their primary focus is their customer seated in their dining room. It’s not uncommon to see a chef emerge from the kitchen in a pair of shorts and pull up a chair for a drink at your table. There’s no starched chef’s uniform and hat. Instead, there’s simply the breaking of bread between friends, one of mankind’s most time-honored traditions.
Expat’s Dreams Come True
Some have an Escapeartist Dream similar to that of the owner of Jimbo’s Mesquite Grill. Jimbo arrived in St. Maarten for a visit in 1998. Three months later, according to him, “I shipped my waterbed (without the water), my cat, my stereo, my books and my motorcycle.” After a series of odd jobs, he opened Jimbololo which operated until Hurricane Luis decided to leave nothing standing but “a bottle of Jaegermeister floating where the bar once was.” Not to be dissuaded, this expat managed other restaurants until opening Jimbo’s Mesquite Grill in early 2003. This Simpson Bay Marina favorite was where the Gagnon’s enjoyed great food and drinks in the open air dining room and bar designed around a massive native tree. The staff was a curious mixture of native St. Maarten staff and tourists who, like Jimbo, may have come for a short vacation but decided to stay for the foreseeable future.
The Atlanta brokerage team also visited Ric’s Place. This breezy hangout located near the drawbridge in Simpson Bar is owned and operated by an American expat. The American influence is seen in team pennants hanging from the bar in Georgia Bulldogs. That’s proof positive that while you may leave home to follow your dream, a little bit of loyalty always remains with the U.S.A. (or at least with favorite sports teams). The bartenders in this no-frills bar keep the refreshments flowing and the chatter is mostly in English, reinforcing the number of non-natives that have found happiness serving up drinks and food in this sunny slice of the tropics.
Canadian born and self-taught chef Julia Purkis followed her passion and ended her journey in St. Maarten as well. She serves up her fabulous small plates while guests dine in a raised platform that is reminiscent of a tree house set amidst a tropical rainforest backdrop. Her wood patio (or carbet) is perfect for drinks, listening to music and enjoying a number of small plates or a full dinner. She takes inspiration and ingredients from her rainforest surroundings. Diners reported their meals were delicious and unexpected in the casual but chic surroundings.
Owning a Bar or Restaurant in a Foreign Country
It’s easier than you might think to buy an international restaurant or bar.
- Contact a reputable business broker in the U.S. who can recommend resources or help you through the process.
- Search for online resources for restaurants or businesses for sale. Most will list both international opportunities along with local ones.
- Interview restaurant brokers to get insight on buying an overseas restaurant or bar.
- Rely on strong websites that discuss the entire expat experience and requirements like escapeartist.com.
Some nations will expedite visas into their country if you’re investing in a business that provides local jobs. Governments want people who are applying for visa’s to enter their country and bring assets or opportunities for others. The United States is one nation that offers an expedited route to citizenship for those individuals moving to the country and buying a business. The United States program for an E-2 visa allows foreigners who have made substantial investments to enter the country in order to develop and direct the business operation established by their investments. Interested buyers should check with a qualified attorney familiar with the regulations for the country where they wish to buy.
Owning a bar or restaurant in a foreign country remains a dream for many, but it is a reality for some. In many ways, it can be as straightforward as a real estate purchase overseas. The process for the buyer remains the same as locating a local restaurant or bar for sale. Here are the steps:
- Locate opportunities
- Ask questions
- Perform due diligence
- Get the best advice you can afford from an expert restaurant broker
- Hire a local attorney familiar with the country’s regulations
Complete these steps and it won’t be long until you’re ready to start serving up your own cocktails in paradise.
Robin Gagnon is an Atlanta restaurant broker and frequent writer in the restaurant, food and beverage industry on the topic of how to buy a restaurant and how to buy a bar. She is the Vice-President of We Sell Restaurants and wesellrestaurants.com, an online resource for buying and selling restaurants, bars and clubs.
If you are interested in working with the Gagnon’s to buy/sell a restaurant domestically or internationally, or you are interested in becoming a restaurant broker for We Sell Restaurants, please contact the Gagnon’s directly by completing the information below.