Lance Leonhardt Interview, Feb. 17th 2015
Q: (By Mr. Brandon) I am here with Lance Leonhardt on February 17, 2015, at his beautiful home at Jacqui O’s Restaurant, and we’re going to begin. Lance, would you please tell us your name, where you are from, a little bit of your history, and how you came to be a restaurateur here in Antigua?
A: Okay. Well, I’m from a town in England called Shropshire, a county called Shropshire and a town called Shrewsbury. That’s where I grew up. I left there at the age of 20 because the economic situation in the U.K. for young people out of college was terrible. I found my way to America, and worked my way around America for six or seven years, went back to the U.K., then back to the States for another five years. And then I was in the car business, and heavy equipment business during that time. And in 1991, late 1991 I started to develop an idea for taking small dents out of cars without paint. It’s a system that’s been used in manufacturing of motor cars for a long time, ever since the skins of cars became thinner.
Back in the old days, car bodies were so heavy and thick-gauged metal that you didn’t get dents, you just got chips in the paint. They were built like tanks. As car bodies started to get thinner, they started to get dents in production, and because the metal had more elasticity in it, it was able to be lifted out using certain concepts. So, in 1993 I started a company called Dentmaster, which I took to the London market in August of 1996, and I then took the finance from there and took the company across Europe, western Europe, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Republic of Ireland, Switzerland, and, until finally in 1999 I was made an offer by the Manheim Auction Group in the States, in Atlanta, and they boughtthe whole thing and retired me to Monaco. I lived in Monaco for five years, did all the dream things, the yachts, the fast cars, not the fast women, though, and then, after I had done all my play things and achieved all the things that I wanted, that one always dreams of, I decided to go back to work. I moved to Dubai because of the tax-free status there, and is English-speaking, generally, as a country, and quite a dynamic place, and created Dentmaster Middle East with a couple of my old employees from Dentmaster in the U.K., and after four years, four and a half years, I decided to retire again. I sold the company to them, financed it to them, and it’s still going today. I moved to Annecy, France, in the French Alps, where I bought a small chateau. Obviously during this period of time I had accumulated a lot of stuff, cars and art and this and that, and a lot of stuff that needed maintenance.
So I find myself one March morning making my list of things to do today, and the list has things like get the guy in to repair the boiler in the old part of the house, the swimming pool guy, I need to call him to start getting him lined up to get the swimming pool open again, I need to get the Ferrari serviced, I need to drive to Geneva, and da-da-da-da-da, and by the end of the list I made the grim realization that for the past 15 years all I had been doing was acquiring shit, and I was now the unpaid employee of all the shit I owned.
So I decided that it was time for a change. I stuck the house and all its contents on the market, and waited for a buyer to pitch up. Meantime I started trying to figure out what I was going to do next. I’d always in my life wanted to own a restaurant, since I was in my late teens, having worked in kitchens during college, and in the restaurant industry in college, and I decided this was the time to make my dream come true. I took it a little further and decided that I wanted to simplify my life, so the restaurant that I’d like to have would be on a beach, it would consist of a barbecue with me behind it, a cooler full of iced beers, and behind that a little shack which I would live in, on the beach, and this particular shack, when you went in there and you opened up the wardrobe it would contain seven pairs of flip-flops and seven sarongs, and that would be all the clothes that I would have.
Anyway, it was a good way to start out, but the idea hasn’t exactly worked out like that. It’s a lot more complicated than I thought. But I am on a beach, and I came out to the Caribbean for the first time ever because I figured there were a lot of beautiful beaches here, and I figured I’d find something here that maybe I could buy. And I went to six islands and looked at about 60 different properties, and the second island I came to was Antigua. And I happened to have seen a picture of Jacqui O’s when it was for sale before, and called something else under the name of something else, I can’t remember, and, I decided while I was here to go and visit and see if it looked as pretty as it did in the picture. Of course when I walked in it was just spectacular, the water was the right color, the sand was the right color, the garden was beautiful and tropical-looking, there were islands in the distance to make the view even more impressionable, and, the building was just the perfect foundation. Unfortunately, of all the 60-something places I looked at, this was the only one that wasn’t for sale.
So I continued my venture down as far as Union Island in the Grenadines, then returned to St. Lucia where I had seen some other opportunities, tried to make something out of that. But really, at the end of the day Jacqui O’s was the place. This was the only place that I wanted to be. It was the only one that ticked all the boxes, and I started working on getting the owner, the owner at that time to consider selling it to me. This took about six or eight months, until finally she made an offer I should have refused, and, I ended up lying on the beach with my long-suffering ex from Dubai, an interior designer called Nikki B, with her telling me “You can’t buy this with your head because the numbers don’t work. But you want it, it’s what you want to do, so buy it with your heart and then run it with your head.” So, this what I have tried to do. So, finally I decided to pay the price, came over here in September of 2013, started organizing it, brought a chef with me from Monaco; that’s a whole other story, how he and I hooked up, and we opened to a full house on the 12th of November, and we’ve been pretty full ever since.
Q: Lance, that’s a great story, and I know from my short experience here that your restaurant has an absolutely stellar reputation on the island, which is getting better every day.
A: Thank you.
Q: Your word-of-mouth is obviously excellent. I’m interested in how you feel about your success generally. You are obviously a very successful man. Do you think your success came because of some innate talent, or something that was a fortunate coincidence in your life? To what do you attribute your success?
A: The failures I had before. I think every time you fail you learn, and every time you have another go you get even better. And providing you keep having a go, you get to the point where, during the decision-making process of your business, you make more right decisions than wrong decisions. And, as a result of that, you tend to succeed. I mean, failure is all about too many wrong decisions. It’s also important to know what your limitations are. I’m not a bookkeeper, I’m not an accountant. So, along with me all the way throughout my career since 1993 with Dentmaster in the U.K., I’ve always made sure I had good financial people on my side, and that they’ve been able to take care of the areas in which I have weakness.
Q: Finally, Lance, what do you see as your future here in Antigua?
A: (Laughing). Well, the restaurant is fantastic. During the course of the season it’s an amazing, amazing place to have. It’s an amazing place to own, it’s an amazing place to be on a daily basis. I hate to over-cliche the word “amazing,” but we do get some of the most interesting people coming through here. Our client list is fantastic. And, as you said earlier, a lot of them are word of mouth. They’re referrals from other referrals from other referrals. Our guests here are the people who are in Ibiza, in San Tropez in the summer, they are in Monte Carlo in the summer, they are on their yachts, and, frankly, if I leave here there’s nowhere else to go that I find as interesting as it is here. So, with living on the beach next to the restaurant, with palm trees blowing in my face, the view of the island, my commute to work a mere 20 meters, or 20 yards, I don’t know whether it gets any better than this. But I’m sure if I think of something else I’ll do it.
Q: All right. Lance, thank you for your time.
A: You’re very welcome, John.
Q: You’ve done a great job, and I hope tocontinue to have your friendship for a long time.
A: Thank you, sir. Take care.