A couple of weeks ago, The Weekly Newspapers highlighted an online business whose goal is to market the products of mom and pop shops across the country. This week, we decided to profile some family-owned businesses across the Florida Keys. Along with the independent spirit that often stands firm against big box companies setting up shop in the island chain, there’s clearly an entrepreneurial strength that is alive and well – even in this economic climate. As South Florida’s locally owned community newspapers, we’re proud to present a sampling of some of Monroe County’s locally-owned family businesses.
Key Largo Conch House
Although the Dreaver family is not originally from the Keys, they wanted to make sure their established customer base knew they offered plenty more than just coffee.
Fifteen years ago, owners Ted and Laura Dreaver purchased a condo in Key Largo so they could spend all their free time diving the pristine waters in paradise. They relocated permanently in 2001 and three years later, Ted decided to fulfill his lifelong dream of opening a restaurant.
“We found Frank Keys Café and change the name to Key Largo Coffee House,” Laura explained. “We were always a restaurant with a coffee bar so decided to change the name in November 2006 to Key Largo Conch House so tourists would know we had great food, not just coffee and muffins.”
Sons Jonathan, 31, and Justin, 29, both work as managers, and daughter Stephanie works as a server when she’s home from college. Justin’s wife, Mildreck, works full time at the hospital but greets guests as a hostess on Sundays. Jon’s fiancée, Joanna, works full as the barista.
“We love being together as a family and getting to spend so much time together,” she continued.
“Our first grandson, Dalton was born June 26 to Justin and his wife, so the family is growing. Our greatest reward has been spending so much time together.”
Though the Dreavers purchased the business with no prior restaurant experience, they’ve proven that with vision and hard work, they can make it at any new endeavor.
The Key Largo Conch House has been featured on Food Network and in the travel sections of The Washington Post, Cape Cod Times, Palm Beach Post and Miami Herald. They’ve garnered recognition for their famed lobster bisque, conch fritters and cups of java.
Dale Baker came to Marathon in 1952 when mid-century construction was beginning to peak. His father was in construction and after service in Vietnam; Dale decided to follow in his footsteps. He started “digging ditches” for Cameron Construction Company, and before long, he’d worked his way up to estimating and purchasing.
In 1977, Dale and his wife Pat opened Marathon Lumber, and from the outset, it was destined to be a family affair.
“It’s very much our business together,” he explained. “I have been the salesman out in the field on the construction side and she oversees the accounting and operations.”
In essence, he sells and she manages, but lately, his daughter Tricia has taken the reigns as general manager and vice president. Tricia also started at the bottom, sweeping the floors of the warehouse as a teenager and worked her way through the ranks to her current position.
“After I fired her about 12 times, she finally told me the way she’s going to do things,” he chuckled.
That arrangement, though, is perfectly suitable for him.
At 61, Dale’s beginning to look at the next chapter in his life, which he plans on spending in Walterborough, South Carolina.
“The truth is, in a family business, you never really retire,” Dale said. “But, I’m certainly not going to be in the office every day.”
What’s the company doing differently in this economic climate than they’ve done in years past? Besides paying closer attention to details in daily operations and improving methodology “doing things better without doing them twice” – the most important thing they’re doing is not laying off any employees.
He explained that an employee came to him and suggested the company cut back their twice-weekly waste pickup as the need had slowed in the summer months.
“All of our employees have been with us for a long time, so it truly is a family business,” Dale said proudly.
Bascom Grooms Real EstateAfter graduating from college, Bascom Grooms took the traditional route and worked in human resources for a few years before he opted to obtain his real estate license, ultimately setting his own course for his life and family.
“It was nice to work Monday through Friday and enjoy holidays off, but I much prefer real estate because in this business, you can control your own destiny,” Grooms said. “You can be as successful as you want depending on how hard you want to work for it.”
Since 1999, he’s been at the helm of his own firm with his mother Marge, stepfather Gordon Smith and wife, Beth, serving his clients as active associates.
“I’m able to involve my family in a lot of different facets of business at my discretion,” he continued. “I might not be able to do that at another company.”
Grooms admitted that it is a challenge to have the ultimate responsibility for the company’s direction on his shoulders.
“Always being “on call” can get tiring,” he admitted, “But I do feel the return on investment is well worth it.”
As his business continues to grow – the downturn in the real estate market has allowed him to re-evaluate his business – he’s building long-term plans for his children’s future. His stepson Ryan is only 17, so there are a few years yet to gauge whether or not he’ll continue in Grooms’ footsteps. Six-year-old Kelci is already enrolled in BGRE’s training program as a paper shredder.
Last year, Grooms’ business was destroyed by a fire, so he was forced to relocate to a temporary location above The Bike Shop. On September 1, the firm will move into spacious new digs at The Island Center, 1716 N. Roosevelt Boulevard.