$1.2M Sur Club dives into market
Guardian Business Editor
Published: May 31, 2013
Ron Breer remembers the first Sur Club customer well.
He was an athletic gentleman, over six feet tall, who sat at the bar and enjoyed some drinks and a salmon roll. But when he reached into his pocket, he realized that he only had euros to pay the bill.
For Breer, what happened next was nearly beyond belief.
"The customer jumped into the ocean and swam across the channel to the cruise ships," the new general manager at Sur Club recalled. "He went back to his room and found U.S. dollars so he could pay the bill."
Looking back, Breer believes that the first customer was definitely an avid swimmer, whether amateur or professional. But apart from the bizarre lengths taken to pay a bill, the incident served as a reminder of just how close Sur Club is to the action.
And yet, historically, the area where it sits is often perceived as so far away.
The $1.2 million Japanese restaurant, now in its soft opening at Elizabeth on Bay, enjoys one of the best patios and views in the capital. Nevertheless, it's located on a stretch of East Bay Street that has struggled to prosper.
As millions of tourists disembark cruise ships each year, the impulse is often to turn right, rather than left. Right sends tourists to high density areas, such as the straw market, and the buildings tend to be more developed and refined.
Sur Club hopes to give tourists and Bahamians a big reason to turn left.
"What we are trying to do is develop a culture of our own," Breer said. "Sur Club has been built as a brand on its own. I think we'll be in the top five of restaurants in the city."
Sur Club features a sleek interior and has crafted a menu that it believes sets it apart from the competition.
The inside features ample seating and a large sushi bar. At night, the venue transforms into a kind of club-lounge atmosphere, as panels on the walls change colors and respond to the beat of music.
On the outside, a spacious patio includes a mix of tables and lounge chairs separated by a hedge. There is also a full outdoor bar with big-screen televisions.
Breer believes that Sur Club can hit a sweet spot in the market, positioning itself somewhere between Nobu and Seafront Sushi, by offering stylish dishes, excellent prices and a hip atmosphere. Appetizers and deserts are a particular area of focus for the restaurant, including a guava creme brulee, a vanilla and pineapple fruit juice ice-cream (piled high in a third of a pineapple) and chocolate cake spring rolls.
Breer said that he has opened 20 Japanese restaurants in other cities in the world, such as the U.S., Holland and Japan. This global traveler is joined by an Indonesian sushi chef, who was trained by a Japanese chef out of South Beach, Florida.
Guy Gentile, the owner of Sur Club, is also the principal of Swiss American Securities Limited, a brokerage located on one of the upper floors of Elizabeth on Bay.
Gentile is without question the largest tenant in the new plaza and indeed a pioneer in the resurgence of East Bay Street. He told Guardian Business that he can afford to be patient with Sur Club, although he believes that with the right marketing, it can be an instant success.
In fact, he envisions turning Sur Club into a franchise.
Gentile revealed that the plaza is close to "tearing down the gate" just east of the plaza and opening up the area for parking, solving another major bugbear for entrepreneurs and customers in the area.
Sur Club thinks it has a vision and formula that works, and this Saturday it plans on hosting a "soft launch party" to celebrate. Bahamians and tourists can enjoy deals on drinks and appetizers. A local DJ has also been hired to spin music for the launch.