From a mother’s broken heart comes a story of hope and the promise of recovery for anyone facing devastating loss. Long time St. Maarten visitors, Carol and Ron Zenaro of Shrewsbury Massachusetts, met with WEEKender this week at one of their favorite spots on the island, Topper’s. They are the toast of the happy hour crowd, a diverse collection of regulars who are quick to bring newcomers into the fold. Here you can find friendship, camaraderie and something more, something deeply touching.

It was six years ago that Carol and Ron’s son, Scott, succumbed to his battle with cancer. Diagnosed at age 30 with Ewing’s Sarcoma, Scott had endured more than four years of treatments, including surgeries and chemotherapy, at the famed Massachusetts General Hospital. That’s when his oncologist told him the phrase no one wants to hear: there is nothing more I can do for you. Traditional treatments had failed to help him, the prognosis was grim. The Zenaros were devastated and had no idea where to turn, but there was a thread of hope. They were told about a foundation that helps end-stage cancer patients with alternative medicine, including involvement with experimental and clinical trials.

The Lazarex Cancer Foundation is based in Danville, California and is the creation of Dana Dornsife. Their mission is “to improve the outcome of cancer care, giving hope, dignity and life to advanced stage cancer patients and the medically underserved by providing assistance with costs for FDA clinical trial participation, identification of clinical trial options, community outreach and education.” Lazarex was established in 2003 when Dornsife’s brother in law passed away due to pancreatic cancer. Although she was trained as a lighting engineer and an interior designer, Dornsife saw herself becoming an advocate for patients. Since that time, hundreds of people have been blessed with hope and extended lives through her efforts. One of those was Ron and Carol’s son.

Scott Zenaro was able to live another two and a half years, thanks to Lazarex. His parents are keeping his spirit alive, and they cannot stop singing the praises of the foundation that did so much for him. “They helped us set him up in California, and they paid associated costs, including covering the rent for a nice apartment,” they told me over mixed drinks at Topper’s. The treatments he received there made a huge difference, it was just unbelievable,” said Carol. “He was comfortable and happy. He even got a dog while he was out there in California, well, we have her now.” This prompted Ron to show pictures of the dog on his phone to everyone at the table, a gorgeous brown and white pit bull with a sweet face, a legacy of love.

While Scott was receiving all this specialized help, Carol decided to begin a project as a way to say thank you to the Lazarex Foundation. Although she had never been an ‘arts & crafts’ kind of person, she thought she just might be able to make beaded bracelets. She began with clay beads, and then found a special style that spoke to her. Glass beads in the shape of a heart. These became her symbols of the love she feels for her son, her husband, her friends, family and the Lazarex Foundation. She found these glass beads right here on the Friendly Island, at a wholesale jeweler in Marigot. Carol gets another of the beads, a roundel, from another wholesaler on Front Street. So where ever she goes, she sells the bracelets and the wearer then carries a little heart from St. Maarten as they go. But they also know they carry a mother’s love.

Carol’s bracelets have become a passion, even an obsession, for her. “When he passed, I couldn’t think, I just went blank, all I could do was sit and make bracelets. Holding the beads in my fingers and looking at colors and patterns, it was comforting. Sometimes I work fast and everything is how I like it, then other times I put one together and look at it and say no, then I take it apart and try a different combination.”

The gang at Topper’s is well aware of Carol and her bracelets. She and Ron have been a fixture there for years, as they stay just down the road at the Royal Palm during their extended visits to the island. Everyone stops by to look at the new styles, and buy them as souvenirs and gifts for loved ones back home. The bracelets sell for US $20 and all the proceeds go directly to the Lazarex Cancer Foundation.

All told, the Zenaros have raised and donated more than US $120,000 to Lazarex. Most of that money, about $ 78,000, was raised from the sale of Carol’s bracelets. They have a personal goal of reaching $80,000 while they are on the island this trip. That gives them until March when they return to the states. “Can you imagine?” asked Ron, “So much money can be raised just from these twenty-dollar bracelets?” In addition to the bracelet sales, they were able to raise $39,000 through a raffle of Scott’s custom motorcycle. Ron emphasized that 100% of donations to Lazarex go to the patients; the administrative costs of Lazarex are all covered by, not the foundation itself, but by the founders themselves.

The couple continues to stay active in the Lazarex community, traveling to California to volunteer with their annual gala event. At one of the events, they were honored for their extraordinary efforts. This vacation, the Zenaros even brought one of the Lazarex employees, patient coordinator and office manager Tami Keeler, with them to the island. Ron explained, “She was close to our son and she dealt with him very frequently. They became very close friends. And she had never been to St. Maarten.”

Lazarex Cancer Foundation and the Zenaro family stand out as the best of the human spirit. Holding out hope, providing support and giving love to those in need. For more information about Lazarex, check out their website www.lazarex.org. If you would like to see the bracelets, call Ron’s local number 554-1170 or email cazenaro@aol.com. Better yet, stop by Topper’s over the coming weeks, they are often there… during, you guessed it, happy hour.

By Lisa Davis-Burnett

Uber has arrived in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T). The service was launched there on the January 15. Celebrity Machel Montano promoted the launch by taking the first Uber ride. Uber is expanding its global reach. T&T is the first English speaking country in the Caribbean where the service is offered. The Dominican Republic saw the introduction of the transportation service in November 2015 while the US territory of Puerto Rico experienced their introduction in July 2016.

Already Uber is facing difficulties with theT&T authorities. Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan has said, “As it stands now their operation here is illegal.” The ministry contends that Uber’s operations will make its drivers contravene the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act. To offer taxi services in Trinidad, a driver must have a taxi-driver’s licence. As it stands, Uber drivers are persons who own or drive vehicles. There is no requirement that they own a taxi-driver’s licence.

The Minister of Transport is also concerned about insurance coverage for passengers. In response, the local representative for Uber in Trinidad, Julie Robinson-Centella, makes the usual company response that Uber is not a taxi service but an online service provider. Uber has faced several court battles as its operations conflict with existing regulations and business practices in countries or states in which it operates. Robinson-Centella also advised that all Uber riders and third parties would be covered by insurance. It seems a bit contradictory for Uber to declare that it is not a taxi or transportation company yet it insures passengers using its services.

Trinidadians seem to be aware of the income earning potential of the company for ordinary individuals. At the introduction, 200 drivers had already registered to be a part of the service. It is not surprising really that drivers are interested, because there is a practice in Trinidad for persons to use their private vehicles for hire. Locally, they are called “PH” taxis. The Uber model is really the same except, of course, for the telecommunications and online platform. Although its current laws do not allow the government to sanction this illegal taxi service, it is so ironic that Uber may enter the market and organise and obtain revenue from the PH concept. I hasten to say, however, that government should not be responsible for initiating all business in a country; it is more of a private sector role. PH taxis too are probably happy to have their independence and unlike Uber do not have to share their fees. What Uber does is to add a marketing aspect. It could be, however, that not all of the PH drivers may need any marketing.

It is possible that Uber may win a legal battle in Trinidad as it has done in other jurisdictions. It is possible too that T&T may have to amend some of its transportation and licensing regulations. But legal battles are not the only conflicts faced by Uber. In some places where Uber operates, the conflict has also been with legally operating taxi drivers. Sometimes the conflict takes an interesting expression. One visitor to Puerto Rico reported on TripAdvisor that local taxi drivers physically blocked their Uber vehicle from driving off. The passengers, according to the post, had to get out of the Uber vehicle and walk away from the vehicle and the hotel so that the driver could get to them. The same type of conflict has erupted in protests and violence in many countries and cities when Uber enters the taxi space. There were massive strikes in London, Sao Paulo, Rome, Mumbai, Belgium and Paris and Melbourne. This shows the similarity of the global reaction. There are no reports yet of any protests in Port of Spain and probably there will be none, but only a few days have passed since Uber arrived there. In addition, Uber is only operating within a limited geographical area at the moment. Consumers can only access the service within Port of Spain, although they can request a journey outside of that city.

The consumers will decide what service they will use whether PH, legal taxi or Uber. For many, that will be influenced by cost and convenience. For others, safety may be a primary concern. T&T has been grappling with the disappearance of persons, especially women. Would Uber increase the incidence of more contact with strangers and the possibility of increased danger, especially to female passengers? This safety concern especially rape and sexual assault has, however, cropped up with Uber in various cities around the world. The same fears exist with regard to the use of PH taxis as well. And the use of a legal taxi does not necessarily shield a passenger from danger either. In the end, the consumer will have to be cautious.

The introduction of Uber into T&T creates an interesting competition – not only with legal taxis, but also with the PH drivers who use their private vehicles for hire. One waits to see whether the legal framework would accommodate Uber and what the PH operators would have to say about that.

By Terry Nisbett

With a small idea that grew into a grand vision, Danny Ramchandani and Prime Distributors now sit at the top of the food pyramid for the northeast Caribbean. The business of distributing food products is a complex one, and it hasn’t been without its challenges, but through all the ups and downs across four decades, the loyalty of the employees and the clients have kept Prime Distributors growing.

Danny Ramchandani arrived on the island in 1972 and took a job as an electronics salesman. Within four years, that world had lost his interest and he was looking for something more challenging. Visiting with WEEKender in his Cole Bay office, he recalls, “It wasn’t exciting anymore, I couldn’t see myself continuing with it.”

It was during those four years that he travelled quite a bit. Whenever he was at Princess Juliana International Airport, he couldn’t help but notice that lots of tourists coming to the island would bring their own food. “They would bring in enough food for two weeks and stay at the Time Share. I also noticed that the supermarkets on the island were offering basics like sugar and rice but with big mark-ups; I thought I could do better.”

He started with a small warehouse – just 1,000 square feet – on Pondfill road. “There were mega distributors then, we were the smallest; but we were an instant success. Every year for the first five years, we had to move to a bigger warehouse. And within two years, the big companies were asking us to be their distributor.” By 1981, the business was well established, with a 30,000 square foot warehouse called Rams, located where Kooyman is now. This was the about the time that the customers asked for more fresh produce as well as frozen goods.

“We saw the need to diversify, so we built big freezers and coolers. That’s when we opened Prime Distributors just as a small warehouse in Cay Hill at first, and we also began to get into retail sales.” Business was booming, and then came Hurricane Luis in 1995. “We totally lost our whole business, between the hurricane and the looting, it was 100% write-off. We had never anticipated being completely wiped out like that, so we were very under-insured.”

It was a huge challenge to restart, but the employees were determined and encouraging. The family behind the business, including early shareholder “Mr. B. Ramchandani”, never wavered in their confidence that things would get better. The banks and suppliers also gave support. “It’s thanks to all of them that we were able to come back – but they stuck with us because of our 20-year track record and the good will we had earned.”

Ramchandani emphasized, “Even in that environment after Hurricane Luis, we never let a single employee go; we kept them all on and the business continued. We worked out of shipping containers in the heat for a full year.” Two years after that, the business was back to full throttle. By December 1997, they had opened the first state of the art, fully modern supermarket on the island. It was the new Rams, rebuilt in the same location that had been ripped from its foundation during the hurricane. And once again, they had instant success on their hands.

Ramchandani explained that the food business in the Caribbean is not a simple endeavour. There are no statistics to keep track of who brings in what, and all their orders are made about six months in advance. “There is no crystal ball,” he said. “Everything is imported, and there is importation occurring on the French side as well as the Dutch side, it’s very complicated. It’s both art and science. You sometimes have to make an order based on a combination of intuition and past experience.” He noted that since he grew the business himself, he has developed a sense of when to order and what to order, as well as how much. “It’s easy to overextend; you have to control the monster, and not let the monster control you.”

By the year 2001, things were progressing well and they were expanding again, that is, until several setbacks came along. In late August, there was a big fire that gutted the Cole Bay facility. Shortly after that, the company’s long-time shareholder and supporter “Mr. B.” passed away. Then came the 9-11 attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. “The island was once again dead,” said Ramchandani. “We had to operate our wholesale division out of containers for about six months.”

It was a difficult time for the entire island, tourism dropped to almost zero, and many companies had to find a way to adapt just to survive. That climate likely led to Prime’s competitor, Food Center, going out of business – an event which turned the tide for Ramchandani’s business concerns, as it allowed them to acquire the Food Center warehouse in Cole Bay. Now the company is at the pinnacle of distribution for food and related products for the entire region, importing from around the globe, supplying our island’s needs and sending palettes of products out to surrounding islands.

“The reason we are successful,” says Ramchandani, “is that we started from scratch and learned our lessons along the way. We know how to reduce excesses and minimize spoilage. We have long-term relationships with our clients and we appreciate our employees. We’ve been growing and we are getting more creative. I have to offer sincere thanks to all our dedicated employees and especially our dynamic management team. After four decades and all the ups and downs, we still continue to thrive and find ways to solve problems by working together.” That is the Prime Distributors philosophy in a nutshell.

For Prime Distributors’ perseverance, tenacity, respectful attitude, and dedication to excellence, the island of St. Maarten owes much to this company that holds an integral position in all our lives.

Some people are social butterflies, flitting to one event after the other, collecting sweetness and spreading seeds of friendship. But many of us are caught up in our busy routines and we hardly find time to sit and visit with friends. We need a reason to linger, and we have to schedule those times on a calendar. Unfortunately, those are often the first to be pushed aside when something “mandatory” comes along. So schedule your gathering with friends at something more inflexible, something that can’t be pushed aside so easily. Try an event hosted by a club or a business that allows you plenty of time to chat with your oft overlooked friends and offers something else in the bargain. Here are a few suggestions, courtesy of the WEEKender.

For ladies only, St. Maarten Yacht Club (SMYC) hosts a monthly “Ladies Who Lunch” and it’s always a hoot! If a friend of yours has a SMYC membership and brings you as her guest, then you should definitely take advantage of this special event which takes place on the second Monday of each month. Sometimes the group dines right at SMYC and sometimes there is an outing planned. There have been excursions to the Etna ice cream production facility in Rambaud on the French side, to Loterie Farm and many other special sites across the island.

January’s instalment of Ladies Who Lunch turned out to be even more fun than normal as the group loaded up on the Celine II and toured around the Simpson Bay Lagoon for a couple of hours. Food was served in courses and there were plenty of beverages to lubricate the conversation. Want to join the fun? Email smycmanager@gmail.com

Another reason to linger can be found at the Amsterdam Cheese and Liquor Store on Juancho Yrausquin Blvd. #26 (next to Chesterfield’s Restaurant). About once a month, this interesting store holds a tasting event to promote special wines and cheeses, or sometimes rums and cheeses. It is a wonderful excuse to get together with friends. You gain knowledge about the products’ varieties and the influences that affect the outcome of wines, rums, cheeses and more. The price is super reasonable and afterwards you can purchase the bottles you liked. Best of all, you have time to talk with your friends, and to make new ones! To find out more about this, send an email to acssxm@gmail.com

Other possibilities include the library’s many interesting events, Axum Art Café, and the shows offered regularly at Dreams International Art Gallery and Auction House. Any of these can be followed in the events section of facebook. But of course the important thing to consider in all of this is the sentiment that we cannot allow ourselves to be too busy to enjoy our friends and a bit of time to linger in relaxed conversation.

When it comes to managing people, processes, logistics and products, look no further than the expert team at the helm of Prime Distributors to see how it’s done. “The key”, says senior manager Sunil Bulchandani, “is passion.”

Bulchandani has worked for Prime Distributors for 16 years, having come right out of university where he earned degrees in commerce and business management. “I am here for so many years now, but I still feel passion for the work. Every day is something new. I always look forward to coming to work.”

We have to keep up with the changing times, Bulchandani told WEEKeneder. Whether it’s regarding staffing, marketing or shipping and logistics, there are always challenges popping up that require creative solutions. Echoing that sentiment is senior sales manager Umesh Gursahani: “This is a real milestone for any company; to have succeeded for 40 years shows the strength and the flexibility we have.”

Gursahani manages the overseas department, the frozen and chilled goods departments, and food service to hotels and restaurants, among other things. He makes connections with clients in Anguilla, Saba, St. Eustatius, as well as Montserrat, St. Barths, Dominica, Antigua and even Trinidad. “Wherever we have good shipping lines, we can send orders, either weekly or monthly, as required. We supply cases of products on pallets, shrink wrap them securely and send them via the port.”

The client list includes hotels, restaurants and individuals. It’s something Gurashani has been doing for more than 20 years. “I started in 1988; back then, I did the accounting,” he shared. “Then I moved to operations for a short time.” Now he is involved directly in the exporting of products out to the surrounding islands. “Products come in from all over, especially North America, Europe, Asia, South America and even Australia and New Zealand; then we take orders to send out to customers in the other islands. One time we had a request to ship some products to New Zealand, and I had to advise the gentleman that we were a long way from there, perhaps he could find another distributor a bit closer!”

Both managers shared their appreciation for the company’s founder, Deepak ‘Danny’ Ramchandani. Bulchandani: “I will say it’s a great honour to be a part of such an empire and to work for Danny Ramchandani, who is very warm-hearted and always acknowledges all our efforts. It’s a great work environment.”

Photos: Sunil Bulchandani, senior management & Umesh Gursahani, overseas and food service manager.

 

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