Lee Hossler and his wife Dottie's friends Richard and Carol Steiner invited them to a party for Consulate General of Switzerland François Barras in Jamaica, Vermont, last year. Lee took advantage of the opportunity to meet the ambassador.
"I told him that Swiss Army was in Monroe and he said, 'Where's Monroe?'" Hossler recalled. "I said, 'I would love to invite you to Monroe.'"
Hossler, who is chairman of the Monroe Economic Development Commission, actually received an email from the foreign dignitary telling him he would be in town to visit Victorinox Swiss Army's North American headquarters at 7 Victoria Drive in Monroe this week.
"I was very pleasantly surprised that he remembered me," Hossler said Wednesday.
Barras said, "I met Mr. Hossler in Vermont last year. He is of Swiss origin and his family has been here since 1740."
Barras and his deputy, Nadine Olivieri visited Victorinox Swiss Army on Wednesday afternoon. "We are doing a series of visits of Swiss companies," he explained. "Victorinox is an important Swiss company."
"This is my first time at this facility," Barras said. "I'm very impressed. It's a beautiful building. Wonderful facilities."
"It's one of the few family owned businesses in Switzerland — fourth generation, Barras added. Company CEO Carl Elsener Jr. recently won the Swiss Award in the Business category.
Barras was impressed to see the diversity of Victorinox Swiss Army's product line with knives, watches, sportswear, luggage and men's and women's fragrances.
Victorinox Swiss Army moved its North American headquarters from Shelton to Monroe close to five years ago.
"We're very happy here," said Swiss Army President Rene H. Stutz. "Nice building. Nice facility. We're very happy to be here in Monroe. We're staying here a long time."
"We're very happy to have Swiss Army in Monroe, extremely happy," Hossler said. "It's a very good citizen."
Roasted Filet Mignon
Barras, Olivieri, Stutz and Hossler enjoyed a lunch prepared by Carl Anthony Trattoria before touring the giant distribution center at 7 Victoria Drive.
Sam DeVellis is owner and chef of Carl Anthony, located at 477 Main Street in Monroe. He said he caters all of Swiss Army's events.
On Wednesday, guests were served an arugula salad with oranges and parmesan cheese and roasted fillet mignon with a horse radish aioli. Soups included green bean and a wild rice risotto. Dessert was a blueberry lemon cake.
DeVellis is in the restaurant business with his brother Joe and his cousin Idilio.
After lunch, Stutz presented Barras and Olivieri with Swiss Army watches with the day's date engraved on the back. Hossler gave all three of them a bottle of maple syrup made in Connecticut.
Due to illness, First Selectman Steve Vavrek was not able to make the lunch, so Hossler read his proclamation noting Victorinox Swiss Army's long history, its environmental consciousness and declaring it Switzerland/Victorinox Swiss Army Day in Monroe.
Touring the Facility
Jim Anderson, senior vice president of operations for Swiss Army, led a tour of the facility, which has a 100,000-square-foot distribution center serving the United States and the Caribbean. Boxes filled rows of high shelving and were moved by forklifts and along conveyor belts.
Watches, fragrances, Swiss Army Knives, luggage and apparel were packaged.
"All of our products are made in Switzerland," Anderson said.
Stutz said watches come by air and packaging by sea.
Company employee Steve Shiskin, who is also a volunteer for the Monroe Emergency Medical Service, operated a machine that boxed small knives.
At a work station, Edgar Recande fixed a broken knife.
Anderson led the tour group to an open room where watches are repaired. Boxes were filled with watches near the door and technicians seated at desks made repairs.
Lawrence DeVane repaired one watch and Maria Cruz, senior watch technician, fixed another.
Once a watch is fixed, Julie Stewart, interim lead watch repair, said it is kept in a box for 24 hours, then tested in a water chamber with air pressure.
"This one failed," she said after testing one watch. "It will have to go back to the technician to find the leakage. They must pass the water test, then the customers can have a water-resistant watch."
Stewart tested another watch, "This one looks like it's holding its own," she said.