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September 26, 2010

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Roosevelt: The Bund is like Fifth Avenue

AMERICA'S Roosevelt dynasty enjoys long-standing connections with China that continue to this day and the crowning family achievement is the recently opened House of Roosevelt for high-end shopping and dining on the Bund.

"The Roosevelt family has a unique connection with China," said Tweed Roosevelt, chairman of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, at the opening. He is the great-grandson of US President Theodore Roosevelt and the nephew of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He is chairman of the MUS Roosevelt China Pacific Fund and the Roosevelt China Investments Corp.

Among the family connections: Theodore Roosevelt's daughter Alice, as a guest of the Empress Dowager Cixi, was the first Western woman ever to visit the Forbidden City. His wife and two of his sons visited China in the 1920s on a hunting trip. Another family member spent his honeymoon traveling for several months across China, mostly on horseback. Today members of the Roosevelt family continue to be involved in America's relations with China.

The nine-story House of Roosevelt features a bistro on the first floor, Shanghai's biggest wine cellar on the second, a members-only club on the third, the Sky Restaurant and Bar on the eighth, and the Rooftop Lounge offering a spectacular view on the ninth.

The European-style building was constructed in the 1920s by Jardine Matheson, once one of the biggest trading companies in the Far East. It was renovated from a deserted office building.

"It didn't really look promising when I first came here during the SARS period," recalled Roosevelt, "However, from my perspective, the Bund is just like Fifth Avenue in New York with the river view. I was convinced that one day, it would become the most high-end street in Shanghai."

Q: Why choose Shanghai for the project?

A: Shanghai is obviously the business center of China, but why we chose Shanghai is somewhat accidental. This building happened to be available, and we saw the potential. We think it would be the perfect location for us to start a brand in China, as the flagship.

Q: What are the building's highlights?

A: We have created a fusion of old and new. The wine cellar contains more than 2,600 labels and over 20,000 bottles ranging from 65 yuan (US$9.70) to 500,000 yuan (US$74,570).

When I first came to China, the Chinese had no real appreciation of any wine. They didn't know much about wine. And the local wines weren't very good.

However, over the years, I could see that the Chinese are learning very quickly about wine. We think it is a good business opportunity. The rooftop lounge is another highlight. It offers a gorgeous view of the Huangpu River.

Q: Will people come all the way to the Bund just to buy a few bottles of wine?

A: The idea is that when people come to the Bund for luxury shopping or fine dining, they might as well visit our wine cellar. Or, if they like the wine they have over dinner at our restaurant, it's easy for them to come to the wine cellar to bring some bottles home.

I always believe that if you want to make money in business, you either want to be the very high-end or you want to go with the mass market. You don't want to be in the middle.

I want the House of Roosevelt to be the best, to be on the top. To be the best doesn't mean that everything has to be super expensive.

We have a superb collection of wines, from the ordinary to the really high-end; and the fact that we have the whole range is what puts us on the top.

Q: Once you planned to bring Saks Fifth Avenue retail stores to China. Are you still working on it?

A: Unfortunately, Saks Fifth Avenue had its financial crisis and its problems. And, like most American retailers, it wasn't ready to go to China yet because it didn't really understand the market.

That is why we have switched from the Saks Fifth Avenue project to found the House of Roosevelt -- with all the efforts, we'd rather set up a brand of our own.


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