I STARTED IN HOSPITALITY WHEN I WAS REALLY YOUNG. I WAS 14 YEARS OLD. I went to high school for a period of time at Lauderdale High School in Fort Lauderdale, and a friend of mine called me and told me there was a famous restaurant down there called Patricia Murphy’s hiring underaged people to work there. I needed a job, so I went and worked at this place starting when I was 14. It was a real institution at the time — kind of like a Bern’s-level restaurant. I started in the kitchen and then worked my way up from there. Then I went to hospitality school at Florida State and went straight to work for Marriott out of college. When I first got out of Florida State, I got my captain’s license and lived on a boat for about five years. It was a cocktail cruise-type boat. I was working for Marriott during the day and doing the cocktail cruises at night.
FAIRLY EARLY ON I REALIZED I WAS PROBABLY A LITTLE TOO ENTREPRENEURIAL TO WORK FOR A BIG COMPANY FOR THE LONG HAUL. I ended up with a client, PricewaterhouseCoopers, that wanted to master lease an entire hotel. That deal that I struck with PWC allowed me to raise the equity to go build my own hotel and master lease the entire thing to them right here in Tampa. I decided to call the company Mainsail because I was a boat guy. The first project was on the corner of Hillsborough Avenue and Eisenhower Boulevard. It was a 360-unit complex that I master leased to PWC, and that’s what got me going back in 1998.
2020 TAUGHT ME that perserverance outweighs a whole lot of other things. You may not always have all the right answers, but you’ve got to get up every day and persevere. I think people appreciate that. I’ve been coming into the office since day one and have tried to lead by [example], trying to be somewhat fearless, saying, look, we’ve got to keep the flame lit at Mainsail headquarters. People need to know that things are still going to be OK. They certainly got a little bit hairy for everybody in the hospitality business, especially when things were completely shut down. There were so many unknowns. You just have to persevere through it.
THIS FALL, WE’RE OPENING The Epicurean Hotel in Midtown Atlanta which is attached to a huge building leased to Google. It’ll be the first time we’ve taken the Epicurean name into another market, right in the heart of Atlanta, which is exciting for us. It’ll be very similar — a culinary classroom, restaurants, all the same kinds of attributes.
I THINK FLORIDA IS GOING TO KNOCK [ECONOMIC RECOVERY] OUT OF THE PARK because of the foundational things that are in place. Number one, the weather. Number two, the taxes. Our population is growing while some states are shrinking. Florida is a great place to conduct business. Tampa in particular is a great upcoming city. We really have so much to be proud of in Tampa. I’ve lived in almost every city in Florida, and Tampa is just a real winner, in my opinion. It’s a very manageable town. It’s not too big. It’s not too small. It’s the Goldilocks city.
THE SUPER BOWL WAS SUCH A MAJOR SHOT IN THE ARM FOR EVERYBODY [IN THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY] TO GET BACK TO THAT LEVEL OF ENERGY. What it did to showcase our city, you just can’t put a dollar value on that. When everybody was watching all of those millions of video snippets that have been out there of the boat parade, Tom Brady throwing the Lombardi trophy and the fact that we’re conducting life here in warm, sunny Tampa, I think so many people looked at that and said, oh my gosh, that looks like a place I want to be. Let’s go visit, let’s do business there. I think it reminded all of the hotel staffs and all of the people who are in the hospitality business what our lives are normally like.
WHEN MY FAMILY AND I TRAVEL, we try to find a restaurant that’s way off the beaten path, one that the locals go to. I feel like you learn a lot about a community [that way]. I love a good meal, so I love to go experience a new cuisine and make an adventure out of that. I took my family to Africa, and we had some amazing experiences there trying out some different foods.
THE BIGGEST ITEM ON MY BUCKET LIST is seeing my kids get married and start families. I really want to check that box and know that they’ve found somebody great and have a fun wedding. I feel like that’s a rite of passage for a dad. I have three incredible kids, and each one is so unique. That’s a huge honor for me, to be a dad and husband.
I HAVE TWO SURPRISING SKILLS. I can ride a unicycle, and I can play a five-string banjo. The unicycle was a challenge I accepted from my dad when I was around 11 years old. Then we used to go up and visit this little town in North Carolina called Franklin. There was a young red-haired girl who played the banjo. I was probably 11 years old, and she was [around] the same age. She was an incredible five-string banjo player. I was just watching her fingers rip across that banjo, and I was so impressed that I wanted to learn that skill, so I did. My dad was a musician and played the guitar, so we would accompany each other, which made it even more fun.
IF I COULD WAKE UP TOMORROW WITH ANY ABILITY, I WANT TO BE ABLE TO SING LIKE A CROONER. I want a voice like Brett Eldredge, the country singer. If I could wake up and have his kind of voice, I would take it. He did a Christmas album, and during every single song, I’m like, I want that voice now [laughs].
MY PERFECT DAY WOULD BE TO HAVE A FLAT, CALM OCEAN AND DEPART EARLY IN THE DAY, WHEN THE SUN IS JUST STARTING TO COME UP. Go about 50 miles offshore and go fishing. Then on the way home from fishing, watch NFL football and come home and have a great dinner with my family. That’s the perfect day.