After 33 years in the restaurant business, Somerset Country Squire has officially gone out of business, leaving another 14 employees on the unemployment line.
In an exclusive interview with Bermuda Real this week, owner Donald Hassell said the popular Somerset Village community pub officially shut down operations at the end of July 2020.
Admittedly, he said he was quite emotional during the clean up to clear out in the lead up to a ‘Going Out of Business’ sale this Saturday.
“I want to thank the public for supporting me in every endeavor I have done from Henry VIII, Flanagan’s, North Rock Brewery and thanks to the Somerset community because they have done a lot for me,” he said.
“It’s a community pub, this was the meeting place, I met a lot of people here and I made a lot of friends here.
“I just want to say right now at this moment I would like to go deeper but I can’t. I wanted to thank people and I’m having a going out of business sale here on Saturday starting at 10am.”
But he was reluctant to speak on the dispute with Sandys Holding Company that led to this closure, at this stage.
“It’s been a long battle and I’m still battling and it’s not over for me but I never thought it would come to this,” said Mr Hassell.
“For the last ten years I’ve just held on for the community, I haven’t made any money out of Squire. This closure means the loss of 14 jobs.
“I’m a shareholder with the Sandys Holding Company and I never thought we would split on these terms but it’s not over.”
As the dispute rages on, he said he will expand on the issues once they have been resolved.
Asked what’s next for him, he replied: “Fix my knees.
“I’ve had three job offers and I’m thinking about taking one of them but it’s not in the restaurant business because I can’t stand up behind the counter any more. I do a guest bartender Friday nights at the sports club and do those four hours and I’m messed up for the weekend. So my legs are done.”
But he said: “It’s disheartening because this was my life’s work. I’m a Somerset boy, I grew up here, I grew up over East Side now I’m on West Side and I look at the community – this has torn a community apart. I think it has really torn this community apart. A lot of my customers have said they miss me but I know who my friends are and it’s a hard pill to swallow. You will hear more from me soon but I don’t know when it’s going to be over.
“I am emotional and it’s the worst way to be in business,” he added.
“What’s worrying me is Boyles is going to be pulling out, English Sports Shop has already pulled out and with the closure of Somerset Country Squire, that’s three major businesses. What’s going to be in Somerset, not to mention the closure of Arnold’s on Main Road in Somerset.
“Somerset is going to die, we’re dying on the vine now but we’re really going to die. I never thought I would see something like this.”
In the weeks leading up to today’s General Election, he said he has been out canvassing in C36 Sandys North with Jeff Sousa of the One Bermuda Alliance.
Asked what he heard most on the doorstep up at the west end, he said most Bermudians were concerned about Bermuda’s economy and unemployment.
“People are concerned about jobs, jobs, jobs,” said Mr Hassell.
“We have got to find people work and unfortunately you have no tourism business.
“This Southampton Princess business is going to be a big one – you’re talking about a thousand people out of work and that’s going to escalate because those thousand people represent maybe 6,000 people because they have families, children, mothers, fathers.
“We’re in for a rough time and the problem is and you don’t blame the Government because they’re trying their best but we’re servicing a big debt. And I’m worried about that come February when the new Budget comes because you can’t take anymore from the people of Bermuda.
“The tax base is shrinking but your expenses are getting bigger. We are in for one hell of a year. God bless whoever gets elected.
“As I walked around with Jeff I said to him you would want to be a good Opposition because you need a good Opposition in Bermuda be it Marc Bean or Jeff.
“But you need somebody to keep Government in check so you won’t have these $800,000 mistakes Eleven people can’t watch the other 25 people there’s no way that can happen. It’s got to be closer, it’s got to be better than 25-11. I don’t think anybody has been served well by this. You cannot be served well without a good Opposition.”
Moving forward he said: “I’m spending a lot of time over the Watford Club trying to get some cuisine up and running. And I’m trying to do community efforts but it’s not a good feeling the way this went down.”
As it stands now, this story will be continued as another one bites the dust in Bermuda’s ailing economy.