St. John Tradewinds News

Part-Time St. John Residents Purchase Soggy Dollar Bar and Sandcastle Hotel

The O’Connell family relaxing on White Bay: CJ, Ann, Jerry, Tish and Kevin.

After more than a year, the sale of the Soggy Dollar Bar and Sandcastle Hotel on Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands, is final. Part-time St. John residents Jerry and Tish O’Connell, along with their son, CJ, bought the popular White Bay establishment—known as the originator of the Painkiller—for $3.15 million.

Home of the Painkiller
The now-famous Painkiller, a concoction of rum, orange juice and pineapple juice, was invented by bartender Daphne Henderson at the laid-back, open-air beach bar—an atmosphere that the new owners have vowed to retain.

“The previous owners were concerned about the buyers keeping the vibe and the culture of the place the same,” said Jerry O’Connell. “They felt good about what they heard from us, and we had the right price, too.”

After filing purchase contract applications with the British Virgin Islands government in September 2004, the sale of the beach bar, six-room hotel and boutique was finalized early this month.

Lengthy Purchase Process
“It was a bit longer than we expected, but it just takes time,” O’Connell said. “Getting a non-belonger landholder’s license took the longest, but we also had to obtain a trade license and work with the departments of labor and immigration.”

The lengthy process enabled the O’Connells to spend a lot of time with the previous owners, Bruce Donath and Debby Pearse, who owned the establishment for 10 years.

“Because the process was so unique — buying in a foreign country — we worked hand in glove with Bruce and Debby in order to make it happen,” said O’Connell. “I never worked that closely with a seller of a piece of real estate before.”

The O’Connells were also able to get to know the Jost Van Dyke community.

“We spent the last year going around the island and introducing ourselves to other business owners and land owners,” said O’Connell. “Bruce helped us to meet a lot of people, and we are looking forward to being a part of the community.”

The new owners bought more than a piece of prime real estate, O’Connell added.

More Than a Piece of Property
“We weren’t just buying a piece of property, we were buying a lifestyle,” the new owner said. “At times it was frustrating, but in the long run, I think it will be better because it gave us more time to spend there to see how the business was run and get to know the staff.”

The new owners don’t plan on changing anything about the establishment except improving service.

“We will try to keep it the same, but we will concentrate on service,” said O’Connell. “We will not change the culture that everyone is familiar with for the last 30 to 35 years, but at the same time, because of the popularity, we might add staff.”

The bar and restaurant regularly serve more than 100 lunches, and the six-room hotel exceeds 95-percent occupancy year-round, the new owner added.

“The repeat customers are the most amazing—there are people who have been going there for well over a decade,” O’Connell said. “There was no road out there until five years ago, and there still aren’t any telephones or TVs in the rooms. It’s really a retreat.”

The O’Connells, originally from Maryland, started coming to St. John in 1986.

Peter Bay Developer
“My business partner purchased Peter Bay in 1985, and I basically commuted back and forth for 15 years,” said O’Connell, owner of the Peter Bay Investment Co. “We started spending a significant amount of time here in 1998, and now we’re building homes in the upper section of Peter Bay.”

The new Soggy Dollar owners will split their time between St. John and Jost Van Dyke, but there are managers who will remain on-site.

“We brought in managers Roger and Sandy Garside in January 2005, and they have been there almost a year now,” said O’Connell. “They formerly were the general managers of Marina Cay and are very experienced in both the British Virgin Islands and the hospitality industry.”

The O’Connells look forward to running the White Bay bar and hotel.

Loyal Following
“It was a great spot to buy a piece of paradise—the location is great, the owners were great, and there are people from all over the world who come there,” said the new owner. “The place has such a loyal following.”

“We want to encourage all of our friends, the people we’ve met and everyone who enjoys the place to continue to support it, and we will try to make people feel as welcome as Bruce and Debby did,” said O’Connell.

The O’Connells are planning to hold a Soggy Dollar kickoff-party some time next month.