Evertsz-family fights attempts by Royal Palm to put them out of businessPOSTED: 06/8/12 12:53 PM
Wilfred and Barbara Evertsz
“We are St. Maarteners and we will never give up”
St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – This morning the Court in First Instance will rule on a request by AKGI, the Las Vegas based entity of Diamond Resorts International that owns the Royal Palm Beach Resort, that Briella N.V. vacates the lounge on the first floor of its building in Simpson Bay. It is one of many steps in a process that the Briella N.V.-owners, Wilfred and Barbara Evertsz, consider a harassment campaign designed to rob them of the business they have built over the past two decades and to hand it on a platter to Herbert Anthony Daboul, the owner of Topper’s in Simpson Bay.
“We are from St. Maarten; we will never give up,” Barbara Evertsz – a sister of Democratic Party MP Petrus Leroy de Weever – told this newspaper yesterday. Says her husband Wilfred: “Are they telling us that a local St. Maartener is not able to make a living here? Come on.”
The Evertsz family owns the Royal Deli in the resort and it has a long lease contract to operate the Cabana bar and restaurant. It also operates the lounge on the first floor – the current bone of contention with AKGI that wants the local entrepreneurs to vacate it by September 1.
AKGI went to court because the family has no plans to vacate the lounge voluntarily. In court documents the American company states that it wants to start using the lounge for itself.
mr. Jelmer snow, the attorney who handles the case for the Evertsz-family knows better. During the court hearing last week he said that AKGI wants to give the exploitation of the lounge to Topper’s.
Wilfred and Barbara Evertsz’ history at the Royal Palm beach resort goes back to more than twenty years, to 1991. That year the owner of the deli at the resort, Dutchman Frans Muller, asked them to manage the place for him. Later the St. Maarteners bought the place from him.
At the time, the Cabana bar and restaurant did not exist: there was only a shack behind the property near the beach. “After Hurricane Luis in 1995, Sunterra (then the owner of Royal Palm) asked us to take over food and beverage at the resort,” Wilfred says. “We invested $200,000 in building Cabana. We have a lease contract for 5 plus 10 plus ten years with the first right of refusal, so we still have about twelve years to go.”
Under the Sunterra ownership everything went smoothly, Wilfred and Barbara say, all that changes when Sunterra went into chapter 11 bankruptcy and Diamond Resorts International took over. Initially, CEO Stephen Cloobeck seemed satisfied with the food and beverage services for his guests.
“Jim Hutchinson was his sales and marketing manager. He somehow befriended Topper’s and began to send all clients to his restaurant.”
Hutchinson, Evertsz says, was giving incentives like restaurant coupons to people who bought timeshare at the resort. But the coupons were not for the resort restaurant, they were for Toppers. Trouble increased in 2008 when flyers in the reception promoted Toppers, while the menus for Cabana were removed from the guestrooms.
“Howard Klubeck, the food and beverage manager for Diamond International started to send letters to timeshare owners advising them against eating at Cabana,” Barbara Evertsz says. “Instead he advised them to go to Toppers.”
In 2008, Toppers opened a second location for his restaurant business at the Flamingo Resort – also part of Diamond International.
Later that year hurricane Omar struck the island; like many other waterfront establishments, the Cabana restaurant suffered its share of damages. “A couple of days after we finished cleaning up we got a letter telling us to get off the property,” Barbara remembers. “Toppers and his wife were brought in to operate the place. They celebrated with champagne.”
But the Evertsz-couple was not ready to let their business go just like that. “We went to court, and we won,” Wilfred says. “Diamond International was ordered to let us back in under threat of a $10,000 a day penalty.”
Since then there has been constant harassment culminating in a demand to vacate the lounge. But attorney Snow has argued in court that the resort has no right to use that lounge as a bar, because the lease contract the Evertsz-family holds gives them the exclusive right to offer food and beverage services.
Barbara Evertsz has nothing but disdain for Diamond International CEO Stephen Cloobeck. “To give you an idea what kind of man that is,” she says, “there was a picture of Queen Beatrix and crown Prince Willem-Alexander in the reception area, because they once stayed here. He had that picture removed and replaced by a picture of himself.”
Remarkably, AKGI offered the lounge it now wants to reclaim in writing in September 2008 to Barbara and Wilfred Evertsz. The couple recently invested $10,000 in a new bar. According to attorney snow, AKGI has no intention to compensate them for this investment.
The Cabana bar and restaurant and the pool-side bar have created employment for not only the owners but also for their daughter Athena, for eight others – André, Therese, Omar, Naromi, Prenes, Pierre, Limège and Nadine – and for additional seasonal helpers. A second daughter, Gabriella, owns a pet store in Cole Bay and occasionally is at hand to help out as well. The couple’s daughter Kreta is currently studying marketing in Miami.
Attorney Snow noted last week that, since AKGI’s failed attempt to chase the Evertsz-family out of their business in 2008, the company has “repeatedly taken childish but harming measures.” AKGI wrote in a report about the functioning of the bar and restaurants that customers complain that they are unable to charge their expenditures to their room. “That option has been made impossible by AKGI, Snow told the court last week. To add insult to injury, the company has told its front desk not to give any information about the Cabana restaurant to its guests.
Barbara and Wilfred Evertsz have confidence in the outcome of the lawsuit. “We have spent $30,000 on legal expenses,” Wilfred says. “AKGI has said that it will keep going to court until we go bankrupt. But so far they have lost every court case against us.”
Among the supporters of the Evertsz-family that were in court last week are former Lt. Governor Franklyn Richards (“We went to school together,” Wilfred says), Barbara’s brother Petrus Leroy de Weever and MP Roy Marlin.