An iconic Virgin Islands brand has entered a new chapter. Mark Vanterpool, Fourth District representative and the owner of the One Mart chain, on Monday announced his purchase of the 40 year-old Pusser’s brand, which sells rum as well as operating restaurants, bars and clothing stores.
“Pusser’s is an icon in the Virgin Islands; we are proud of that as BVIslanders,” Mr. Vanterpool said during a handover ceremony in front of the chain’s Road Town location. “I have immense confidence in the history and culinary traditions, often synonymous with the British Virgin Islands, that Pusser’s has developed over the past four decades.”
Charles Tobias, who founded Pusser’s in 1979 and operated it since then, said the chain, which depends heavily on tourists, has been struggling after the one-two punch from the 2017 hurricanes and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although Mr. Vanterpool said banks told him he “had to be crazy” to invest in such a restaurant in the midst of a pandemic, Mr. Tobias said the decision came at the right time to save the business and the jobs of more than 100 employees.
“When visitors go down, our sales go down,” he said. “With virtually no visitor traffic, the past 12 months have been exceptionally challenging for our business, especially for our staff of over 100 employees, as it has been for so many persons employed in the hospitality industry not only in the BVI but around the world.”
Although Pusser’s has its roots in a rum distributed to Royal Navy sailors starting in the 17th Century, the modern incarnation of the brand dates to 1979, when Mr. Tobias obtained permission to make the rum from the Navy, according to Pusser’s.
The company expanded to eventually operate multiple restaurants in the VI, as well as selling branded clothing at its Pusser’s Company Stores and owning the copyright to the Pusser’s Painkiller cocktail.
Also this week, Myett’s Garden Inn announced that it would end its partnership with the company, which has operated the hotel’s restaurant, Pusser’s at Myett’s, since 2018.
On Monday, Mr. Tobias, who turned 87 this year, handed over the business to Mr. Vanterpool and his family, including his wife Judith and son Deon.
During the ceremony, Mr. Tobias said he turned down several deals that would have seen the business’s ownership move out of the VI, because he was determined to keep it local.
He added that he had done business with the Vanterpool family for more than 25 years, and believes that they are the ideal new owners of the chain.
“The first thing is to look after our staff that have been with us for so many years, and Mark agreed to do that,” Mr. Tobias said, adding that all employees will be given any benefits they are owed.
Although he is retiring, he said, he will continue to live in the VI and associate with the business in an advisory capacity.
Meanwhile, Mr. Vanterpool said that as the business works to move into the post-pandemic era, expansions are in the works in the realms of merchandising and ecommerce, as well as a “big celebration” in the near future to celebrate the handover.