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Gem Osceola brews success with coffee business

Florida Seminole CoffeeDAVIE — The key to Gem and Linda Osceola’s success in business has been her passion for a good cup of coffee.

About 10 years ago, they wanted to start a business but didn’t have a direction in mind. He was a salesman in his father’s chickee business, and she managed a local Wendy’s restaurant. They decided on coffee and have tasted success ever since.

In 2005 when the Osceolas opened a small stand called Cup of Joe’s on U.S. 441 in Hollywood, they had no idea coffee was the second most traded commodity in the world after oil. The popularity of the coffee stand seemed to confirm the statistic; business was good and construction workers building the Seminole Hard Rock across the street were the biggest customers.

Tribal member Mike Tiger also enjoyed the Osceolas’ coffee and helped get the fledgling business a new location inside Tribal Headquarters. From there, the Florida Seminole Coffee business accelerated when the Classic and Immokalee casinos took a chance on it. Gem credits President Tony Sanchez Jr., who was general manager of Immokalee Casino at the time, for giving them an opportunity to work with the casino.

“We learned as we went along,” Gem said. “We’re still learning. We’ve made mistakes, but we’ve had more success than mistakes. I had the drive and did what I needed to make it happen. I didn’t give up.”

Conducting business with the casinos was demanding. It forced Gem to find a bean supplier who had the necessary equipment and could handle the high volume. Farmer Brothers, a 102-year-old coffee manufacturer, wholesaler and distributor, has filled the bill for about the past five years.

After working with the Classic and Immokalee casinos for a couple years, Florida Seminole Coffee was hired by Seminole Gaming to provide coffee to all Hard Rock Cafes and hotels. The successful working relationship has continued since 2007.

“Everyone wants to work with the casinos, but you have to work fast and meet their expectations,” Gem said. “Every hurdle is big, important and has to be done; you can’t neglect anything.”

Working with the casinos gave the Osceolas’ company a chance to provide promotional products for its player reward program. In 2011, the casinos needed hundreds of residential Keurig coffee machines in a hurry and gave Osceola 48 hours to secure them. He did. With that, he won the bid and another business, Paparazzi Photography and Entertainment, was born.

Paparazzi P&E provides promotional products for the Players Club reward program, serves as the vendor for the program’s catalogue and produces events at the casinos. Players can redeem their reward points for gifts found in the catalogue.

“We are the backbone of the players’ experience after they leave the tables,” said Rob Cetron, Paparazzi P&E project manager.

Paparazzi P&E works with other Native American casinos, attends trade shows and competes for business along with much larger companies.

“The biggest challenge is to battle the stigma that we aren’t as capable as the national companies,” Cetron said about being a Native American-owned company. “We are proud that we have grown in this highly competitive industry.”

Like any successful business owner, Gem has a strong team behind him. Frank Pego, of Farmer Brothers, supplies and delivers the coffee and equipment to all Florida Seminole Coffee customers nationwide. Cetron started Paparazzi P&E with Gem and manages its day-to-day business.

“These are the guys that allow me to live life the way I want to,” Gem said. “They are my spokesmen and are like partners. Without them, I’d be out there building chickees full time.”

Gem credits former Tribal business relations manager Joe Cortese for helping him understand the specific processes involved in working with Seminole Gaming. Gem’s advice for Tribal members interested in working with Gaming is simple: Don’t skip a step.

“Follow the rules and regulations,” he said. “There are steps you need to take. Talk to the business relations manager for advice and follow it.”

In addition to Florida Seminole Coffee and Paparazzi P&E, Gem is a part-owner of Florida Seminole Tiki, a tiki-building company started in the 1980s by his father, Joe Dan Osceola, and brothers Brian and Wade. Today, Wade and Gem operate the tiki business, while Gem also concentrates on off-reservation residential and commercial sales.

Gem said the reward for his hard work is spending time with his family. He lives in Davie with his wife, Linda, and their children, John, 15, and Faith, 13.

Given the option of freedom or profit, Osceola chooses the freedom of time.

“That’s why I have Frank and Rob,” he said. “They each have a support team behind them. I’d rather take less profit and have the security of this team.”

For more information about Florida Seminole Coffee or Paparazzi P&E, email flsemcoff@yahoo.com. For more information about becoming a vendor for Seminole Gaming, contact Tribal business relations manager Darwin Reyes at Darwin.Reyes@stofgaming.com.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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