Sonesta Maho Group will launch its new entertainment concept in September. The person behind it all is Shep Shephard, Director of Entertainment for Maho Group. He tells us about himself and his plans for entertainment.

Who is Shep Shepherd?

“I’m a professional, creative, and working internationally within the Art and Entertainment industry with a broad experience in entertainment creation, theatrical production and special events. I’m a creative thinker, a passionate and extremely driven individual; I’m also a karma farmer. I strongly believe in doing what you can for who you can whenever you get the chance.”

Where are you from and how did you end up on the Friendly Island?

“I was born in the Potteries, the heart of England, in 1983 to fireman Malcolm and nurse Sandra. In March 2016, I was approached by the Maho Group to join the company and head up their entertainment operation. I moved to the Island in August and have been here since.”

Education?

“I studied performance at Bretton Hall College of Art in West Yorkshire before going on to complete a Master’s Degree at Kings School in London. I originally trained as an actor, but gradually broadened my interests to include the wider aspects of production. Whilst studying, I became known for staging unique events and live performance. Since then my work has taken me around the world, working in theatres, art centres, cruise ships and resort concepts.”

Tell us about your job at Sonesta Maho?

“I joined Sonesta Resorts St. Maarten in August 2016 to oversee the Entertainment Operation at that time. I was approached by the Vice President of Resort Operations… In November the owners invited me to design and deliver a brand-new entertainment concept for Maho Group, spanning Sonesta Resorts, The Maho Village and The Casino Royale Theatre.”

Tell us about your experience in this field?

“I was always an entertainer and loved centre stage… I’ve played for lots of large audiences over the years as a Cruise Director, Compere, Radio Host and interviewer. There’ve been many personal highlights, but professionally speaking, it would be interviewing World Champion Sports Stars and Academy Awards-winning artists… Working at Yorkshire Sculpture Park where I was exposed to many incredible international artists and influential mentors, shaped me as a creative thinker.”

Tell us about the new shows?

“We’re currently developing our brand-new shows for the big launch in September, and it’s really exciting. For the high season we will have three brand-new spectacular productions, featuring aerial artists, acrobats, world champion dancers and vocalists. There will be three shows weekly on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturday, all at 10:00pm in Casino Royale Theatre. Presently we have two temporary shows running, MJ The Experience on Wednesdays and Dances of The World on Fridays, right after the Maho Village Carnival. In addition to this, of course, we have performances across Great Bay, Ocean Point and Maho Beach Resorts… One thing that I’ve been very clear about in building the new content is that we want the shows to be as appealing and accessible to as wide an audience as possible. We’re investing huge amounts of time, money and effort to build shows that don’t just draw people to Maho Village, but to the Island of St. Maarten.”

What do you like about your job?

“I love the creative process. It’s exciting and stimulating and there’s never two days the same. As I get older I also really enjoy watching younger people develop as performers, it can be really rewarding to invest time and effort in people and see them grow.

Also, you get to meet so many interesting people I hear some really great stories.”

What’s your personal management style?

“My door is always open and I try and listen as much as I can. I’m very strict, but at the same time fair and work hard to highlight people’s strengths so as to empower them to grow. I’m very much “you get out what you put in.”

What differentiates you from other persons in a similar profession?

“From the start of my career it’s been very important to me to gain the broadest experience possible from the industry. I’ve developed a wealth of knowledge from hands on experience, some exceptional mentors and always pushing myself to keep learning.

Critically I’ve never been afraid of challenging the status quo, risking new ideas or taking chances. This is what being a true creative is about, not repeating old formulas. You can’t be afraid of failure either. The person who doesn’t make mistakes is unlikely to make anything at all”.

Challenges in the field?

“People who are afraid of change or who fail to see the bigger picture.”

Message for youngsters who want to follow in your professional path?

“Listen, learn and pick great mentors. My Dad always told me: “if you can’t learn from the person next to you it’s your fault not theirs.” I really believe in this sentiment and it’s always served me well. The more you practice the luckier you get so never give up. Be yourself, be bold, make lots of mistakes and learn from them - everyone is a lesson.”

What else are you involved in outside of work?

“There’s an outside of work - what is this place?

Pet peeve?

“Laziness and negativity, get on board or get outta the way. Life’s too short!”

Also people who say “we’ve always done it like this.”

Hobbies?

Music… walking the dogs really relaxes me and playing with Lego too. I’m basically a massive child. I’m passionate about all visual arts so I love galleries, the theatre, cinema and festivals etc.”

What’s your favourite type of music – what artistes do you listen to?

“As I mentioned I really enjoy all genres of music but especially soul and motown, swing and great pop music… There’s always lots of Sinatra playing in my house.

If you could ask any three persons (dead or alive) to a dinner party who would they be and what would you cook for them?

“Frank Sinatra, he changed the face of popular music and politics for several generations and was an incredible story teller. Robin Williams, one of my all-time favourite comedic performers - he’s a million guests in one. And Barack Obama, I think he’s been one of the most inspirational leaders of modern times and we need him back. We’re going to order in Chinese so I can focus on pouring the drinks and picking the music.”

Finding perfection in imperfection

Martine Loubser did not have what many would call a conventional upbringing. For the first fifteen years of her life, she lived on a 44-foot boat with her parents and older brother. Yet, for Martine this was her ‘normal’ and included driving a dinghy to school and sailing from island to island during school vacations.

She accredits her creative drive to her mom, who till today loves anything that requires innovation and creativity.  “My mother, brother and I were always making something. “Sure living on a boat means that you should utilize everything you can, but getting creative was also our form of entertainment”

After high school, Martine followed her passion and graduated with a degree in Illustration from Arts University Bournemouth. Today she is freelancing as a Graphic Designer and Illustrator on Sint Maarten, figuring out her next step into exploring the arts.

Why do you think art is important?

Ha-ha, this is a hard question! I think art means different things to different people, but it definitely serves as a way to connect us. Art brings people together and allows us to share and exchange things about ourselves, our values, and our thoughts. It’s a reflection of our humanity, and I think expressing that is really important.

When did you decide to make art your career?

It took me a while to make that choice. After high school, I did not really know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do something I loved. Art is often not really seen as a ‘feasible’ career option, so I hesitated on following that route.

Instead, I worked for two years in the yachting industry, in a position that was not creative at all. I think it gave me the understanding that being creative is an integral part of who I am. So I looked into art-based programs and applied to The Arts University of Bournemouth.

What was the most valuable skill you learned during your art studies?

Problem, solving! I had pictured going to art school and learning to use tools and techniques, but it actually focused more on the ‘why’ and less on the ‘how’. It was great. I did not just learn how to ‘problem solve’ in art, but I think many of the processes we went through could really be applied to many aspects of life.

What kind of art inspires you?

There are so many! I love loose, evocative sketches with a lot of movement, like those by Toulouse-Lautrec or Valentin Serov, but I also love the simplicity and humour in the work of an artist like Jean Julien. I think what’s most inspiring is passion, in whatever form. If art makes me feel the passion experienced by the person who created it, it inspires me.

Why do you like ‘creating’?

Most of the time, I have a chaos of thoughts in my head. When I create, it allows me to organize and express them by creating something tangible; a drawing or sculpture maybe.

It is like therapy and a pure expression of myself. The product usually doesn’t end up the way I initially planned it, but that’s the best part. I think I would describe myself as a perfectionist, but art has taught me that perfection actually lies in imperfection! I love that.

I have seen a lot of your drawings, is that what you specialize in?

I do love drawing and it is a comfortable means of expression for me, but actually, I have used a lot of different techniques during my art career, and hope to use many more. At the moment I am very into film, so it would be great to explore my next project through that medium.

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

I think I am still on a journey of really finding my ‘signature’ as an artist, but whatever I do, I’d want it to have positive effects on others.

Lately, I’ve been exploring the notion that we all regularly experience loneliness, doubt, and disappointment, but we often only want to expose the best of ourselves. This isn’t a bad thing, but I think it would be great if we were more comfortable with showing weakness as well. I think if this happened, it would be easier to support and understand one another. Maybe I could create something about that.

  

You can invite three people over for dinner. Who are they? What will you serve them? What will you discuss?

So many choices! Maybe Vincent Van Gogh, Emily Dickinson and Franz Kafka. It would be like a surprise party - we’d have cake and champagne, and I’d get to tell them how hugely celebrated and influential their work became after they passed away.

Check out Martine’s art out at www.martineloubser.com

Stoli Brand Ambassador Fernanda Neves is in St. Maarten, where she will be training, bartending and spreading the word about the Stoli brand amongst other things. While on St. Maarten, Fernanda will be doing some market visits: checking the visibility, availability and distribution of Stoli products; looking at the market to promote the brand and teaching people about Stolichnaya Vodka, its origins, how it’s made and how to be creative by using Stoli in cocktails.

Neves also did some staff training at Caribbean Liquors; met with Stoli flagship accounts, held a live radio interview and did some guest bartending. Today, she will conduct a bartender training for interested bartenders from noon to 2:00pm at Melange Restaurant (Port de Plaisance). Lunch will be served. This evening will be the second Stoli Red pop-up party at Dirty Sanchez. Neves will do some guest bartending and there will be a Video DJ and a Stoli pop up bar with drink specials on the Stoli Moscow Mule and Lemonade. The public is welcome.

Neves tells us more about herself in this week’s Hot Seat.

Who is Fernanda Neves?

I am the Stoli Ambassador for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Ultra Luxury portfolio of Stoli for Florida, USA. I was born in Bauru, Sao Paulo. I’ve lived in Miami for the past 15 years. I am a Brazilian natural with some Argentinian blood, who portrays both the distinguished Brazilian charisma and the well-known Argentinian determination.

Education?

I hold a Marketing degree from Florida International University (FIU).

When did you discover your love for the marketing and beverage industry?

I have always been an outgoing person who is passionate about everything I do. My family has a business background, so business is in my blood. But when it came to numbers, I always liked to interpret them not calculate them. So marketing was the perfect major for my personality and skills. When my family went back to Brazil and I decided to stay to finish college, I had to start working to pay my bills while going to school. The solution was to work at night in the food and beverage industry and study during the day.

How did you end up being the Stoli Brand Ambassador?

Before Stoli, I worked at Fontainebleau Resort, on the buyer side of the business. I was the official mixologist of the hotel, working at the Scarpetta outlet. I ended up being the Stoli Brand Ambassador after a friend of mine, who had worked for Stoli for five years, recommended me for a new position that opened up based in Miami.

What do your tasks entail?

My job is divided amongst two sides. The Global side, where my territory is Latin America (LATAM), where the focus is more marketing oriented. So I visit markets with the support of the local distributor and I follow the agenda prepared that ranges from Master classes and trainings with distributor, bartenders and buyers to guest bartending events, event appearances, radio/TV shows and media interviews.

What do you like about your job?

I like the versatility of my days. Every day my job is different. I am in different countries, meeting new people and exploring different cultures.

Tell us about your upcoming trip to St. Maarten?

This is my fourth time in St. Maarten, third for work. St. Maarten is definitely at the top of my list when it comes to the islands. Now when I come back, I feel like I’m visiting friends because I know a lot of people already and we always have an amazing time. My expectations are to spread Stoli knowledge and love while keeping a smile on my face.

I will be doing a lot of bartending trainings and two main events at Sunset Lounge at Papia, and the Red Night at Dirty Sanchez.

What would you like to say to encourage people to come out to the bartender training?

If you want to learn about global tendencies and the full Stoli portfolio while having a blast sipping on refreshing drinks, you must show your face. I bet I can have you trying some samba moves after you get the kick from the classic mules.

What special can be expected from you as a guest bartender at Dirty Sanchez?

I will prepare some classic cocktails with some exclusive twists, show different cocktail techniques and individually chat with each guest, answering questions and hearing feedback.

As someone who is always around drinks, what is your favourite alcoholic beverage?

Elit shaken martini with blue cheese olives. I like to keep it simple, classy and original.

What is your advice to others wanting to follow in your professional path?

Keep in tune with the trends, acquire knowledge, keep it positive and be persistent. As bartenders, we have the opportunity to meet a lot of people. Your contacts will be the best skill you have in your resume, so keep those contacts and know when to utilize them at the right time.

Future goals?

My personal goal is to eventually be able to balance my career and start a family. My professional goal is to reach a top position in the company and then start my own brand.

What do you do outside of your job?

Exercise. I love to do sports, run on the beach, walk with my dog and dance.

Tell us something about yourself that no one else knows?

This is a hard one, because I feel like I’m very open with my life… Maybe that I learned how to sing in Japanese with my grandmother [laughs].

What is your favourite type of music?

I love music period. I like almost everything. It all depends on my mood. But I catch myself listening to a lot of Brazilian music, hip hop, and lately soca.

If you could invite three people (dead or alive) for dinner, who would they be and what would you serve them?

I would invite my two brothers and my boyfriend. I would serve them a typical dish from Brazil called feijoada, which consists of black beans cooked for hours with parts of pork like feet, tail, ear, ribs, served with white rice and farinha (yucca powder).

Bacardi Brand Ambassador Carlos Garcia is currently in St. Maarten to give Bacardi trainings and for tasting events, amongst other things. Garcia tells us more about himself and what he will be doing on the island in this week’s Hot Seat.

Who is Carlos Garcia?

I am a 41-year-old guy who has a six-year-old son named Kalel. I have been working for Bacardi since 2013 as Brand Ambassador for Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. I currently live in Carolina, Puerto Rico.

How would you describe yourself?

I consider myself a serious person; but when you get to know me, I'm very humble. I love to work and I am a team player who likes to help others in anything that I can.

Education?

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Administration and Accounting from University Interamericana of Puerto Rico and I got the chance to be trained in the Bacardi distillery in Puerto Rico and Aberfeldy Distillery (Dewar's) in Scotland.

When did you discover your love for the marketing and beverage industry?

A very good friend of mine asked me if I was interested in working for the Dewar's brand doing a promotion called Dewar's Decision. I was already trained and working at the time and was learning a lot; that was the moment that I said to myself that I wanted to become a brand ambassador.

How did you end up in your current job?

I started running a Dewar's promotion called Dewar's Decision and after almost two years my boss, Hilda Rodriguez, offered me the position of Dewar's Brand Specialist! In the same year, I got to work with the Grey Goose brand as well and after almost two more years, my boss offered me the position of Brand Ambassador. This was the perfect opportunity to start sharing with consumers the wonder of the company and its brands. By 2015, I started a former Trade Ambassador for all BACARDÍ® portfolio brands: BACARDÍ®, DEWAR’S®, GREY GOOSE®, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® and others for Puerto Rico and most of the Caribbean.

What are your responsibilities?

I have to train and give seminars of the main brands in our portfolio to bartenders and waiters and offer tastings to consumers. I talk a lot about the history of each of our products. In Puerto Rico, I do a lot of things like being in charge of important events and the quantity of products and mixers to be used in the activities.

Why are you so passionate about the Bacardi brands?

Because Bacardi is a family, a company and a brand – a family-owned company full of passionate employees and iconic brands, shaped by our rich history of spirited entrepreneurship. Bacardi Limited is built on the enduring legacy of a family. It is a vibrant, family-owned spirits company, nurtured by seven generations of the Bacardi family. (It is – Ed.) the largest, privately held spirits company. Bacardi was founded in 1862 in Santiago de Cuba, when Don Facundo Bacardi Massó revolutionized the spirits industry by creating the world’s first light-bodied rum. Since then, the company has grown to encompass an impressive portfolio of more than 200 brands and labels. These include BACARDÍ® rum, the world’s bestselling and most-awarded rum, as well as the world’s most-awarded spirit; GREY GOOSE® vodka; DEWAR’S® Blended Scotch whisky; BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® gin; MARTINI® vermouth and sparkling wines; CAZADORES® 100% blue agave tequila and other leading and emerging brands including WILLIAM LAWSON’S®; ERISTOFF® vodka, and ST. GERMAIN®.

Tell us about your upcoming trip to St. Maarten.

This is my second time on the island. The mission is to get to more bartenders and talk to them about our products, because many of them don't know that Bacardi owns many brands. I will be doing some Bacardi Mojito and Dewar's training… I will also be showing how to make a Bacardi Mojito. I will also be hosting a Mojito Night for all consumers who are willing to try the Original Bacardi Mojito; and to end this visit, there will be a whisky tasting and training for some whisky lovers.

What would you like to say to encourage people to attend these events?

Do come and enjoy having a Bacardi Mojito especially made by me.

What can one expect from you as a bartender trainer?

One can expect a complete knowledge about the Bacardi brands and get to know the difference between us and the other brands. They will also learn how to give a great service to the consumer.

What’s your favourite alcoholic beverage?

My favourite is Dewar's 12 with fresh coconut water.

What is your advice to others wanting to follow in your professional path?

I’d advise them to keep learning everything they can behind the bar and to have passion in what we do.

What are your future goals?

Personally, I would like to purchase my own home; and professionally, I would like to be a Regional Brand Ambassador.

What do you do outside of your job?

I like spending quality time with my son.

What are your hobbies?

My hobbies are going to the beach with my son and going to the gym.

What is your favourite type of music?

I listen to a lot of salsa and electronic and among my favourites are Gilberto Santa Rosa and Marc Anthony.

If you could invite three persons (dead or alive) for dinner, who would they be and what would you serve them?

My mom and dad because they are not with us anymore. I would serve my dad a Bacardi Cuba Libre and my mother a Frozen Margarita made with Tequila Cazadores.

 

They left everything in Spain. They sold their home and possessions and arrived in St. Maarten with only five suitcases, one for each member of their family. That was three years ago.

These days, business is good for Susana and Eduardo Fargas, who supply supermarkets, resorts and visitors with Spanish products including wines, meats and fragrances. They recently opened a small store next to their warehouse on a narrow side street in Cole Bay. Then they added a few tables, some stools, checkered tablecloths and a menu. There, they offer guests the chance to taste paella, Iberico ham and other food with deep Spanish history. Guests usually walk out with any of the products they might have eaten in their shop.

Susana is quick to point out her “Made in Spain” shop isn’t a restaurant. “I don’t cook here,” she says. “I only warm.”

A slender 40-year-old blonde, Susana flits from table to table while at work, checking on guests, taking orders, discussing and delivering dishes and maybe mostly importantly, taking the cash at the end. While working, she wears her hair in a ponytail, and large, blue glasses adorn her face. It’s her work mode.

“But this is no me,” she pleads in a later conversation with me, as photographer and not interviewer. Then, she poses with her husband, a stout man who is quick to laugh, even at himself, and tends to sing off key and out of tune to songs he enjoys.

Back to interview day, she wears a tidy blouse, red with tiny dots of white. She offers thoughts through a thick Spanish accent for which she apologizes profusely. Sometimes, she mispronounces a word. Other times, she might not follow a grammatical rule exactly. It is an endearing trait. Even more remarkable, though, when you hear her speaking English (which is fine), considering she only learned to really converse in the language two months ago by struggling through conversations with guests when the couple opened their store. She and I talk about that and other things.

Tell me about yourself.

Susana: We were living in Spain. My family are five: My husband, me and three kids. We were living there, and some day my husband asked me if I would like to move to live a new experience with the kids and start again in another place. And I said, “Yes, why not? Sounds good.” My only condition was not in a cold place, so the Caribbean. I was looking on Google for an island with hospital, airport directly to Europe – because if we have to run – and a good school and good for the business also.

Not a lot of options, so we chose St. Maarten. We arrived here with nothing. We sold everything in Spain. We arrived with five suitcases. Come here and we start to sell wines and slowly we grew. That was three years ago. Now, two months before, we thought, why we don't open a small store with the things that we have for the public, also to enjoy, you know; we opened the store and then we thought we can put some tables and then the people can try, which we sell.

How is business?

Susana: Good. Good. Since the first day we opened, we don't do advertisements because we want to go slowly. I did not want a lot of people coming every day because two months before, I just didn’t speak English – just a little bit; but not to be here with a lot of people. At the beginning, it was just the neighbours and some friends of ours. But friends told friends, and now, a lot of people know us. We will make the website.

What about your family? Tell me about your children.

Susana: They are lovely the first thing. We are like a pineapple, you know, very close, because we have only our family here. We are very close, and they are very happy to live here, this experience and to see how their parents are working for [them]. They respect us a lot, our work. They are always, “Can I help you?”

What do you want for the business? Where do you want it to go and to be?

Susana: For example, Saturdays it's full. I would like every day like Saturdays. And then we would like to start making delivery for the boats. We want to deliver cases of wine, legs of hams and everything that we have. We want to deliver it to the boats.

Who eats here?

Susana: It's very mixed – French people, Dutch people and people from St. Maarten. In the neighbourhood, there are a lot of people from St. Maarten; they come here for something different; always the ribs and the chicken. They like new flavours.

While Susana and I talk, Eduardo is busy stocking the warehouse, loading and unloading palettes and generally getting his hands dirty. Susana lovingly refers to him as being industrious. She says of him that he inspired their move and built their business through many hours of in-person conversations, a backpack filled with samples, with various merchants on the island. She mimes walking with her fingers in the air as she talks about him. He stops in for a few moments while we talk to join the interview. Quickly, I can tell the two enjoy each other. They share a laugh in Spanish. Eduardo draws me into that conversation. As I start guiding the interview, he asks casually, “So what do you want to know? About my unrecognized children?” He is joking, of course. And Susana, who knows this too, chides him.

It looks to me like you have a lot of laughs together.

Eduardo: For us it's necessary, the sense of humour. Because you know life sometimes is so tough.

Susana: It's very easy to live with him because he is the most positive person in the world, so it's easy. He has everything super clear, and he's super clever in everything, no? If there is something to do, he do.

Eduardo: And I cry easy, so...

Susana: What more? And nothing is for him. It's always for me first and then the kids. And he's very...

[She struggles for a moment to find a word. Eduardo has a suggestion.]

Eduardo: Stupid.

A moment of raucous laughter ensues, mostly from me. I didn’t see that coming at all, but it is indicative of their relationship.

Later, after the laughter subsides, back to Susana.

Susana: Life is easy. It's for that because I say yes, to do. For example, my friends told me, "Don't do that because you going to feel alone. Yes, you gonna have your husband and your kids but alone in a new place, with new everything. I say, “No, I have my husband; it's everything that I need.” My kids por supuesto are with me, no? Otherwise, I cannot come. We are always everything that I need. If you don't want or need anything, then you're happy.

About then, Eduardo leaves and says to her, “Adios, pretiosa.”

“It means beautiful,” she tells me. That is usually how the two part ways.

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