BRIGHTON — For the first time, Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc. gave the press an inside look at the various businesses of the Board and the Tribe. The media day event, held in Brighton June 12, was an opportunity for the Tribe to share its success from its point of view.
“I became aware of the Seminole Tribe with their purchase of Salacoa,” said Belinda Ary, editor of Cattle Today, a regional trade publication based in Alabama. “The Tribe is a very interesting story; it’s admirable what they’ve accomplished. Their efforts are good for the Florida and Southeastern cattle industry.”
Historian Willie Johns took the roomful of reporters back 500 years to the time of the Spaniards, who brought cattle and horses to Florida. He walked them through the Seminole Wars, Seminoles raising cattle and the Florida fencing law, which cut off cattle trails and drove the Tribe to reservations when passed in 1949.
“The Tribal cattle industry started here,” Johns said. “Cattle flourished in Brighton.”
Alex Johns, Natural Resource director, described Brighton as a 36,000-acre working cattle range.
“They used cows to bring us to Brighton and we made a go of it,” he said. “Cattle allowed us to go into the casino business. A slot machine will spit out money, but a cow will, too.”
He told reporters that 67 families own half the cattle herd in the Tribe. The rest of the Tribe shares ownership of the remaining half.
“I was surprised at the depth and diversity of products,” said Donna Gehrke-White, Sun Sentinel reporter. “I’ll write about how the Tribe is diversifying beyond gambling.”
John Dembeck, chief operating officer of Seminole Brand Development, gave an overview of the businesses of the Tribe, including Seminole Pride Beef, Salacoa Valley Farms, Intermezzo Wines and Hard Rock Energy drink.
“This is our first media day ever,” Dembeck said. “We wanted to celebrate what we’ve been able to do. We’ve told it to the industry, but never before to the media. It’s running smoothly and growing quickly, and we want to tell the world.”
Dembeck spoke about the Tribe’s purchase of Hard Rock International in 2007 and other businesses since then, including majority interests in Noble Food Service, Blue Lake Citrus, Seminole Pride Seafood and OWV water. All are family-owned companies.
“We are a family company who has always been appreciative of the air, land and water,” Dembeck said. “Sustainability is the heritage of the Tribe.”
Cheney Brothers, the distributor of Seminole Beef, sells $200 million worth of Florida beef annually and sees potential in the Tribe’s product.
“The food service wants Florida farm to table, but it has to be good,” said Colin McLean, of Bari Beef International, a Cheney Brothers partner. “Thanks to Alex Johns, it’s performing amazingly.”
After the presentations, reporters toured the reservation’s pastures, citrus groves, sugar cane fields, quarry and Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School.
“I didn’t know anything about the Tribe being in the cattle business,” said Wyatt Bechtel, associate editor of Beef Today, a national trade publication. “What they are doing with the branded beef is in line with bigger operators. We’ve seen success of Certified Angus [Beef] and other branded beef programs. Seminole Beef will help keep the money within the Tribe’s business; with the price of beef being high, they can capture more of the profit.”
Matt Walsh, editor and CEO of the Business Observer, a weekly business newspaper serving Florida’s west coast, said he was amazed at the extent of the Tribe’s business operations.
“It’s extraordinary and nobody knows about it,” he said. “I like that they like to take on family businesses as partners; it says a lot about how they think about their family connection and their roots. I hope they can get their brand on the map.”