The Jacques Scott Group has been vital cog in Grand Cayman’s food and beverage business since the early 1960s. Its managing director for the past 11 years, Peter Dutton, sat down over lunch at Agua Restaurant to discuss Jacques Scott’s storied history, its founder and a chance discovery that led to a wine revolution in the Cayman Islands.
Thirty years ago, it was difficult to find decent wine in the Cayman Islands.
Even though Anthony Jacques Scott had founded Jacques Scott & Company Limited back in the early 1960s, his concentration was on beer and spirits, not wine, said Peter Dutton, the managing director of Jacques Scott Group Ltd.
“There was no wine culture on the Island at all,” said Dutton of what he found when he moved to the Cayman Islands and joined Jacques Scott in 1983. “Scottie’s interest in wines was fairly limited – he liked sweet German wines.”
As a result, Jacques Scott’s wine selection in those days consisted of lots of wines like Blue Nun, Black Tower and Liebfraumilch, inexpensive American wines like Paul Masson, some lower end French and Italian wines and some nice Champagnes.
Part of the problem was storage; wine needed to be stored and displayed in climate controlled conditions and back in the early ’80s, many Grand Cayman businesses didn’t even have air conditioning.
A solution to that problem presented itself when in the mid-1980s Dutton, completely by accident, discovered that beneath Jacques Scott’s main retail outlet – at the time on Shedden Road – were two old cisterns. He reasoned that the underground, concrete structures would be easier to keep cool and would make good wine cellars. He was able to convince the company to open them up from the top and build staircases down to them. They then built wine racks and started acquiring and selling better quality wines.
Wine sales took off.
“It was a sort of a self-fulling thing,” Dutton said. “We started bringing in nicer wines and customers started to appreciate them. We found a willing audience here. The more the Island’s offshore financial sector developed, the more we found people who were comfortable buying these wines and… who wanted them.”
By the mid-1990s, Jacques Scott had such a wide selection of quality wines that it impressed New York publisher Marvin Shanken.
“Marvin Shanken brought his whole crew down from Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado,” Dutton said, adding that they were in the Cayman Islands for a retreat-like brainstorming session.
“Marvin walks into our store and it blew him away,” he said. “You’ll notice that Wine Spectator does very, very few articles… about retail stores and he published a two-page article on us. He said it was good enough for Manhattan, or something like that.”
Agua business lunch
Dutton is quick to point out that Jacques Scott’s success with the fine wines is a testament to great customers, both on the retail side and with hotels and restaurants.
One of the company’s clients is Agua Restaurant at the Galleria Plaza, the place we are having lunch. Sitting just a few tables away is another Jacques Scott Group director, the nonexecutive chairman Arthur Hunter, who is having lunch with his wife Karen.
Agua has been on a roll in 2012, picking up a AAA Three-Diamond Award and winning the title ‘Cayman’s Favourite Restaurant’ during the Taste of Cayman Food and Wine Festival in January.
The restaurant also launched a business lunch programme, which involves an appetizer, main course and dessert for $15.95 plus gratuities, with an option to purchase a glass of wine to go with lunch for only $5.
Guests are given a choice of three different appetizers and three different main courses. Since ceviche is a house speciality at Agua – and the dish it served at Taste of Cayman – Dutton and I both opt for the shrimps and avocado ceviche. Because the shrimp marinade is mixed with avocado, it created an almost creamy sauce – certainly different that most ceviches – that was tasty and not overly tart.
For the main course, I chose spaghetinni with clams and mussels in a light spicy tomato sauce. It’s a hearty dish with just the right amount of pasta and served with lots of steamed clams and mussels in the shell.
Dutton, however, was given another option. As would be expected, he is well known at the restaurant and co-owner Cristiano Vincentini knows what he likes. One of the specials the night before was beef short rib ravioli and it’s one of Dutton’s favourites at the restaurant. Vincentini offers Dutton the choice to having the ravioli instead of one of the three main course choices and he accepts.
The dish is something to behold; four large raviolis over a rich mushroom sauce surrounding a bed of steamed spinach on which a perfectly poached egg rests. Vincentini gives me a tasting portion and it’s absolutely delicious.
“Tell the chef the short rib ravioli was really outstanding,” Dutton said to the waiter afterwards. “He’s going to have to put it on the regular menu.”
During lunch, Dutton pointed out that the timing for the interview was interesting because just that morning he had been working on writing an obituary for Jacques Scott founder Anthony Jacques Scott, who died on 8 April at the age of 96 at his home in Coral Gables, Florida.
Dutton said nobody seems to know for sure when Scott, who was usually called Tony or Scottie, first came to the Cayman Islands. Scott left no survivors, with the exception of an elderly widow who is not very well, Dutton said.
“It’s frightening how little material there is, that we have access to, on him,” he said, adding that most likely, Scott came to Grand Cayman sometime in the 1950s.
“I’m not sure what happened between him arriving here and 1960, but in 1960… he was appointed general manager of West Indian Club, which at that time was the first condo on the Island.”
In those days, Cayman’s food and drink needs were serviced by distributors in Jamaica who sent sales people over to Cayman from time to time.
“[Scott] decided to try and circumvent those arrangements,” Dutton said. “He got hold of Heineken, he got hold of… John Walkers & Sons Ltd., Tanqueray, Gordon’s, and the list goes on… and started dealing direct with suppliers and importing directly to Cayman.”
Scott eventually formed Jacques Scott & Company Wines and Spirits Merchants in 1963.
“He must have had some trouble getting [a distributors licence] because I notice from what he wrote that on the third attempt, he got it. That’s a bit of an irony given what I’ve been through recently,” he said, referring to the difficulties the company has had transferring a couple of its package liquor licences.
Eventually, Scott left West Indian Club and started selling products to the various hotels and restaurants of the day. He rented a place called the Ice House on Walkers Road, which became the company’s first warehouse.
“It had no windows and I don’t think it even had electric lighting,” said Dutton. “It was a very difficult place to work from; you had to go in there with a flashlight.”
Scott set up an office in his home in South Sound and as the business grew, he started hiring employees.
“His first employee was a guy called Clarence Bush, who is still alive, and who when I got to the company was still there. In fact he ran the whole compound. His second employee was Cecile Bodden.”
The business continue to grow, prompting Scott to buy a piece of land on Shedden Road, where he built a retail outlet, a warehouse and the Island’s first climate controlled warehouse.
“He basically shoved two containers together, one was a freezer, one was a chiller, put a roof over them and that became a freezer/chiller warehouse, which when I got to the company was still there, and he started selling frozen foods,” said Dutton.
Somewhere along the line Scott also bought the Little Liquor Store in downtown George Town.
Then, in 1972, Scott decided to sell out most of his share holdings to a group of local investors. He retained a small amount of shares and remained a member of the board, coming back to the Island for quarterly board meetings even until after Dutton first arrived on the Island in 1983.
Scott left a lasting legacy in that not only did he start Jacques Scott, he brought in many of the brands, like Heineken and Appleton, that remain key for the company even today.
Although he was born in the UK, Dutton moved to Jamaica when he was young.
“I grew up in Jamaica, went to school there,” he said. As a young adult, he studied accounting and worked for Ernst & Whinney, the precursor to Ernst & Young before moving to the Cayman Islands at the age of 27.
He knew Cayman because after his father died, his mother remarried Cayman attorney Charles Adams and moved here. Adams was also the man who put together the group of investors that bought Jacques Scott & Company from Tony Scott and became the chairman of the company.
When Dutton joined Jacques Scott in 1983 as financial control, Brian Pairaudeau was the managing director. Dutton said that the substance of the business has changed since he arrived.
“When I came here in ‘83, it was beer and spirits primarily and a little bit of wine,” he said.
“At that time, we did a small amount of food business… basically to complement the alcoholic beverage side,” noting that Jacques Scott distributed Planters products as well as mixers like juices and Canada Dry beverages.
Jacques Scott was also selling a limited amount of frozen foods, and Pairaudeau wanted to expand on that.
“In Brian’s time, he really developed the food business in a big way,” Dutton said. “Brian got hold of Nestle, and that’s become the core of our food business.”
While Pairaudeau was expanding Jacques Scott’s food business, Dutton started expanding the wine business.
To do so, he travelled to various wine countries to establish links with producers. On one early trip, Dutton met with a representative of what would become a key brand of fine wine for the company in those early days – Robert Mondavi Wines.
Dutton said the representative looked at him curiously, having never heard of the Cayman Islands, and not knowing why anyone in a small Caribbean country would want to buy fine wines. After showing him the Cayman Islands on a map, the representative said he would have someone give him a call – which he eventually received. “It was a bit of a culture leap, even for Mondavi,” Dutton said. “I think we were one of the first in the Caribbean to start buying wine from Napa.”
During this same period, the company started acquiring other businesses, including the Red Rabbit Liquor Store in Red Bay and the Wine Cellar in Galleria Shopping Plaza. With the latter came more brands, including Beringer and several other top California wine producers.
Around this time, Jacques Scott also made an ill-fated foray into the restaurant business, buying a restaurant on George Town Harbour.
“Not all of our investments were good,” Dutton said. “We got involved in the Cayman Arms, which was an unhappy saga, really, but it was fun while it lasted. We decided after that Jacques Scott wasn’t made for… being in the restaurant and bar business.”
It wasn’t until the end of the 1990s that Jacques Scott made its next big investment – buying Island Supply in 1999.
Dutton said that by that time, Jacques Scott’s frozen food business had been dwindling, mainly because of expanded competition.
“The need for what we were doing was diminishing, so we decided it was either all in or all out – stay in or get out,” he said. “What we did is bought Island Supply.”
Today’s diversified Jacques Scott Group divisions include wholesale beverages, wholesale foods, hotel and restaurant supply, duty free beverages and retail beverages.
When Red Bay Plaza was demolished, the company moved the Red Rabbit’s package liquor license to Countryside Shopping Village in Savannah. It closed the Little Liquor Store in 2011 and will transfer that package liquor licence to a new store in West Bay.
Just recently, the Jacques Scott Group expanded to Little Cayman.
“The latest thing we’re doing… is that we’ve just concluded an agreement with Perry McLaughlin in Little Cayman to set up a company called Little Cayman Wholesale, which will be a joint venture between us and him.”
While he was developing Jacques Scott’s wine portfolio, Dutton travelled a lot.
“In the early days, on the wine side, it was incredible fun… pioneering around the world,” he said, adding that in addition to California, he went on buying trips to Australia, France, Italy and Spain, among other places.
During that time, Dutton met his wife Paula, who worked as a personal assistant to governors Peter Lloyd and Alan Scott. They were married in 1989 and the couple have two sons, one now in his late teens, the other 20.
In 1999, Dutton was appointed Jacques Scott Group’s joint managing director and he then took over as substantive managing director in January 2001.
His family and bigger responsibilities have curtailed his travelling quite a bit, but now that Grand Cayman is well known in the global wine world, the suppliers usually come here in any case.
Nevertheless, there are still several wine countries on Dutton’s list of places to go.
“I have not been to New Zealand I’m afraid, even though we buy a lot of wine from them these days. I feel like I should really go there.” He also wants to visit the big South American wine producers, Chili and especially Argentina.
“We’re buying some great wine from Argentina now,” he said.
Just because he’s not travelling to wineries as much doesn’t mean Dutton isn’t involved in Jacques Scott’s wine business.
“I do all the wine buying,” he said, admitting that as the managing director, he probably shouldn’t be the one doing that. “But to be honest you, once you know what you’re doing, it’s not (difficult) and it keeps me connected, it keeps me in touch. It means that I have to look at the figures; it means I have to keep my eye on things.”
As for his personal wine tastes, Dutton says he likes a lot of them and that there’s a time and place for most wines.
“I get bored very easily, so I tend to move around,” he said, adding that at the moment, he’s been drinking a lot of Spanish wines.
“They’re affordable and tremendous quality.”
Dutton is also very fond of French wines.
“The variety of France is astonishing.”
Dutton, who speaks French well, also enjoys visiting the country.
“France I love from top to toe,” he said, adding that his brother lives there. “I’m comfortable in France.”
Even with his love for Old World wine traditions, Dutton also likes some New World innovations, like the screw cap. He said he wouldn’t want to see good Bordeaux with a screw cap, but for certain levels of white wines, he thinks they are fine.
“I’d rather have a screw cap than a synthetic cork that I can’t get out,” he said.
Competition and community
One of the biggest changes Dutton has seen on beverage side of the Jacques Scott business is the increase in serious competition.
“We enjoyed the early days when we had it all to ourselves, but I’m a capitalist,” he said. “Competition is a good thing, always. But the whole game has changed since the Darts acquired, not only Cayman Distributors, but the outlets.”
Although the Dart Group presents tough competition, Dutton thinks it gets unfairly criticised sometimes.
“I’ve always found the Darts to be very honourable people,” he said. “I find they play by the rules.”
Dutton said that Jacques Scott actually has a joint venture with the Dart Group on their duty free division.
“I did the deal with John Rea when he was at Island Companies, so that was in place when Dart took over that operation. Dart have honoured the agreement,” he said. “It’s not a huge thing for us, but it works.”
Despite the increase in competition on the beverage side, Dutton said he’s happy with the Jacques Scott portfolio.
“In terms of the wine regions of the world, we have almost all of them covered with high quality – if not the best, then very nearly the best – producers,” he said.
“I’m going to stay with quality. I don’t see the point of adding more and more and more inventory right now.”
Dutton is also happy with Jacques Scott’s commitment to the Cayman community.
“We do try and do our best community wise,” he said, specifically pointing out the annual charity wine auction the company sponsors. “We’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars – from two to three hundred thousand dollars for various… good causes.”
The National Trust for the Cayman Islands was the beneficiary of the charity auction for several years and this year the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands was the chosen charity. Dutton said he thinks Hospice Care will likely be chosen for 2013, which will also be the year that Jacques Scott celebrates its 50th anniversary since Tony Scott officially established the company.
If there are glasses raised in honour of that milestone, there’s a good chance they will be filled with a fine quality wine or Champagne that Dutton – who will celebrate 30 years with Jacques Scott in 2013 – had a role in bringing here.
“Cayman is an extraordinary little island, with the variety of wine we have with a population of 55,000 people,” he said.
Indeed, the Cayman Islands has come a long way since the days when Blue Nun and Paul Masson were the top selling wines. And that journey started with Dutton and a chance discovery of two underground cisterns.