Driving towards Key West, it’s hard to miss the landmark Big Pine Fishing Lodge in the curve just past Bahia Honda State Park.
In 1972, Ohio native and family matriarch Joan Gladwell and her husband purchased the establishment in hopes of owning a piece of paradise.
Her parents had camped at the Lodge for the nine winters prior to that fateful year, and the couple always brought their children, Jay and Brenda, down to visit their grandparents and take a break from the cold.
When they got word that the Lodge was up for sale, the couple jumped at the opportunity to escape the corporate world and own their own business.
On the eve of the opening of 2009 lobster season, Joan was purchasing a few hundred pounds of bananas from her local grocer to feed hungry campers during the Lodge’s annual banana split party.
“Nobody wants to cook tonight,” she explained. “We’ve been doing this for 25 years.”
Even though she still lives on the premises and gets to oversee fun camp sight activities like the annual banana split celebration, she’s gladly turned over the reigns to her daughter, Brenda Scanlon.
In 2003, Joan expanded her corporation and the family purchased Sea Center, a full service marina located on the west end of Big Pine that has been in operation since the 60s.
“We wanted to incorporate the third generation into the family business, so we all set out looking for something we were interested in,” grandson Brian Gladwell explained.
Today, he and his father, Jay, continue to oversee the day-to-day operations while Joan shuttles back and forth between the Lodge and the marina.
“Family businesses are great simply because of the security you have in your job,” Brian proudly proclaimed. “Plus, you know that you are working to better your future and your family.”
“I’ve never known anything but working as part of the family business,” Brenda laughed. “We all have different talents, so in working together, everything just falls into place.”
Like many other business owners we spoke to for this issue, Brian agreed that though the rewards are great, one of the biggest challenges of running a family business is keeping business at the office.
“We try to never bring work home,” he said.
Of course, with a large family of four generations living on one island, such a feat is often easier said than done.
Another common thread between the Gladwells, Scanlons and Keys families running their businesses is the philosophy that treating non-blood employees as if they were part of the family has proven a successful component. Even those without a vested familial interest in the business’s growth take pride in their jobs.
“Our focus has pretty much remained the same for the past thirty years no matter the state of the economy,” Brian continued. “Great quality and cleanliness will always bring the customer back in the long run.”
Online business reviews like tripadvisor.com continually list satisfied remarks for the Big Pine Fishing Lodge, and with half a century of operations at Sea Center, this local family is here to stay.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Joan proudly proclaimed.
Just as they did seven years ago, the Gladwell family is continually on the lookout for opportunities to expand their commitment to quality customer service, no matter the industry or trade.
“Our family is forever growing, and I hope that the fourth generation will come back and be part of the family business,” Brian concluded.
Brenda’s son Jed, 25, is in charge of facilities at the Lodge. He recently reminisced with his grandmother about his responsibilities some 20 years before.
“When he was little, he was the only one who could squeeze down into the shrubs and mangroves and collect the garbage,” Joan explained. “I’ve got a great grandchild who just turned five, so Jed asked me if we could put him to work, too!”