Swiss Stores ramps up food investment
Steven Jackson, Business Reporter
For two years, Swiss Stores has been serving up luxury jewellery with a side order of food, and has apparently found it to be a winning combination.
Owners of the jewellery chain, which distributes Rolex watches exclusively in Jamaica, have recently expanded the food service area of the complex in the downtown shopping district to open up a café called F&B Downtown.
Swiss Stores Managing Director Ueli Bangerter and his partners in the venture invested US$75,000 (about J$7 million) in the expanded food service.
The mixed use venue represents one of a clutch of businesses making spin-off investments in an attempt to capitalise on government policy aimed at reinvigorating downtown Kingston.
Downtown offers high-income clients including lawyers, bankers and telecoms engineers, but few stylish restaurants.
Bangerter told Sunday Business that the venture seeks to fill that market void by offering a bar, restaurant, conference room and shopping. The restaurant specialises in pasta, coffee and wine.
"We owned the building, had space and saw the need for good food downtown," he said.
The spend diversified the 54-year-old Swiss Stores operations into a sleek, modernist-style restaurant seating 80.
"Now we have a jewellery store in a restaurant," Bangerter said.
The store reopened in July after two months of renovation, marked by high ceiling, pews of box stools and narrow tables set against an orange wall. The new F&B investment was used to renovate seating, new kitchen, bathrooms, fixtures, bar and the sort, he said.
Bangerter explained that the jewellery store is family owned but the restaurant is a partnership between himself, Swiss Stores chairman Daniel Eugster, and security businessman Vinay Walia.
"We started two years ago with one table and it grew," he said. "But we closed for two months to renovate and reopened the business."
Bangerter and Eugster began their foray into food as partners in F&B 109 Limited, a company started in 2009.
Jewellery customers are naturally less frequent than the 60 to 80 daily diners. And sales are, understandably, more stable from food.
"You can't eat jewellery," quipped Bangerter.
Diners can also browse Swiss Stores' jewellery including Rolex, Omega, Tudor and Swiss army watches at one side of the shop.
Bangerter said that the plan by large telecoms provider Digicel to shift its head office downtown influenced the investment.
"We always believed in downtown and Digicel made us believe that we are not alone and that there is a brighter future. But without Digicel we might have waited another year," he said.
Companies located in downtown Kingston under the Urban Renewal (Tax Relief) Act receive tax relief for capital improvements such as building renovations. This relief is 33.33 per cent of the approved capital expense.
The Jamaican Government in a lengthy fiscal update to the US Securities and Exchange last week also touted Digicel's pending relocation as a shot in the arm for commerce.
Bringing downtown to life
"One of the direct consequences will be the addition of approximately 1,000 working professionals and expatriates to the downtown Kingston area each day. This will result in an increased demand for support services such as banking, restaurants and other retail services. Digicel has continued to invest in the market district of downtown Kingston and the UDC has been working collaboratively with them," the GOJ update said.
Bangerter said that the return on investment from F&B Downtown would be recovered over the long term.
"We spent US$75,000 and we are not looking at a return on investment in the short term. We at Swiss Stores are here for the long run. The investment was designed to allow us to stay for the long run," he said.
Swiss Stores, the only Rolex retailer in Jamaica, was founded by Swiss national Rudolf WSckerlin who lived in Jamaica. The store remains under Swiss control including Eugster, Ueli Bangerter, director Peter Bangerter; and executive assistant Katie Iver.
Swiss Stores started operations in downtown Kingston in 1958. It also has stores in Mall Plaza, Kingston, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay.