WHERE LOCAL IS GLOBAL

Jamaica 2019 | TOURISM & ENTERTAINMENT | INTERVIEW

Certain landmarks make life more amenable for tourists and locals alike.

Jason Russell
BIOGRAPHY
Jason Russell is the owner and general manager of Pier 1, a landmark of Montego Bay. He believes strongly in giving back to the community and currently sits on numerous boards, including the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce, where he chairs the Government Relations Committee.

What have been some highlights for PIER 1 in the last year?

In 2017, we exceeded our growth targets by 30%. We beat our numbers and emerged from the state of emergency fairly unscathed without seeing any negative effects on our business. Indeed, Montego Bay has boomed under the state of emergency. We are currently expanding, adding 2,500sqft of deck space and a fine dining restaurant. The same is happening with our gift shop, with items from around the world in our retail space and a new café. In the last year, we have been doing more planning, and much of this work should come to fruition by YE2018. It was a busy and successful year.

What makes PIER 1 unique in the city?

PIER 1 gets a fairly even mix of tourists and locals, and that interaction is great for both. Tourists want to come to the island and feel like they are surrounded by culture, which mostly involves interacting with locals in their natural environment. In turn, locals like to see new faces and hear stories from people from all over the world. It is common for people sailing around the world to dock and come to PIER 1, so there is also that interaction on a daily basis. This constant flow makes the place feel dynamic and vibrant.

How is PIER 1 focused on contributing to the Montego Bay economy and creating the potential for more tourism and cultural exchange?

If tourists leave their hotel property and come to PIER 1 and eat one of our red snappers, meet the owner, and interact with someone playing dominoes, they are more likely to come back to Jamaica and not stay at a resort. They might stay at a villa the next time or at someone's home. For me, the return business is crucial for Jamaica to be relevant in the next decade or two, and likewise for PIER 1. When people visit, the first thing they want to do is find somewhere to get delicious food and interact with our culture and music. People want a drink and to relax while they are on vacation, and we give them that. PIER 1 is extremely important for the Montego Bay landscape because we give visitors that touch of Jamaica.

Do you have any projects in the pipeline to make PIER 1 the top nightspot in the country?

Our restaurant is truly our core, and the deck we are adding at the moment is along those lines. We are falling short in terms of the amount of space we have. We have had nights where people comment that it is just too packed, which is a great problem to have. This expansion will almost double our floor space. We are not that heavy on our lights, special effects, and club features, but more focused on having an open-air experience. For us, less is more, even to the point of not having walls so that customers get a 360-degree boat-type feel at PIER 1.

What are your plans to open another location in Jamaica or franchise overseas?

We purchased a 92-room hotel called Deja Resort on Doctor's Cave Beach and have expanded within the hospitality field. After doing some research, ironically, everything we looked at led us back to Montego Bay. It is one of the fastest-growing cities in the Caribbean and is a hot destination. There is a line of people waiting to invest in Montego Bay. In 2018, we will have five new restaurants opening in this five-mile strip. There is no reason for us to move to a new location that will barely break even; many other destinations have not seen any growth at all in recent times. We decided to stay in Montego Bay and invest more.