Seeing Double at Wicked Dolphin and Big Blue Brewing

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Submitted by Timothy Jacobs, Jacobs Writing Consultants, Photos by Cory Dye with Aerial Innovation

If you frequent Wicked Dolphin or Big Blue Brewing, you’re not seeing double when you meet the managers, Joe Termini and Dan Termini. They just happen to be twin brothers. The only one who tells them apart immediately is their aunt, JoAnn Elardo, who happens to own Wicked Dolphin and Big Blue Brewing.

Opening the Establishments

JoAnn has family here in South Florida, and after many visits, she decided “it’s so beautiful here” that she moved from New York. She retired in 2008 and had no plans for jumping into the restaurant or distillery business. “I had owned a business called Amersport,” she says, “located in central Europe. We were one of the largest distributors of American sporting goods. I would not have done it (open two establishments) if it was not for Joe and Dan. They were my encouragement and reason for doing this.”

It was because of bad rum that Wicked Dolphin came about. JoAnn says she was “drinking some rum one night and noticed it wasn’t made locally, but from a different country. Then I thought, we have 50% of the sugar cane right here in our own backyard. Why aren’t we making the rum?”

While visiting New York, she went to a family barbeque and startled talking with her nephew, Dan, about opening a rum distillery. He was studying to be a pipe fitter and has an extensive mechanical background. JoAnn said, “He said he’d like to think about it. Once winter hit, he made up his mind.”

It was not long after that, Dan was in Florida and Wicked Dolphin opened their doors.

Big Blue Brewing came about from Joe and Dan’s enthusiasm of brewing beer. JoAnn said, “There was a big interest in brewing beer. Then this building came up, which is pretty much the cornerstone of downtown; it’s a great location. We picked it up thinking we would move Wicked Dolphin down here, but it just wasn’t big enough.”

She also knew that a brewery is difficult to sustain, so they incorporated it with a restaurant. When the time came for Big Blue Brewing, Joe now had to make a decision about coming to Florida. “It was a big move (from NY),” he says. “It’s also a big risk. I told my boss I was going to take a year off and go to Florida; I haven’t been back since.”

Florida was not all that new to Joe and Dan. “We also vacationed down here, our mom has a house on Marco Island,” says Joe.

Joe came down in 2015 and spent eight months working and learning with JoAnn and Dan at the distillery. He went over to Big Blue Brewing as the construction was finishing up, and they opened the doors in October 2016.

“It’s a perfect fit,” says JoAnn. “Joe has a restaurant and accounting background and Dan has a mechanical and distillery background. I have one more nephew coming down who has experience in marketing, so we’ll see where he fits in.”

How the Names Came About

JoAnn’s house sits along the Caloosahatchee River where she and her husband, along with their dog, enjoy the water and spotting dolphins. Actually, it’s more like JoAnn and her husband enjoy seeing the dolphins; their dog growls every time a dolphin comes to the surface for air.

“I went to bed one night,” she says, “then I heard my dog growling. I woke my husband up thinking someone was trying to break in. He said, ‘No one is trying to break in, it’s that damn wicked dolphin.’ And I said, ‘Wicked dolphin, I like that.’”

For Big Blue Brewing, they went through a lot names, “but one day out on the boat,” says JoAnn, “we were looking at the sky and the water out in the Gulf. I said, ‘Wow. It’s big and blue.’”

All three say Big Blue is not about any sports team. JoAnn pointed out when there is a New York Giants game on, all the fans show up. When there’s a Michigan Wolverines game on, the fans show up. “We didn’t realize how many different avenues there were with Big Blue,” says Dan.

Growing Up and Being a Twin

Joe grew up working in restaurants. “I would start out as a dishwasher, then prep-cook, server, and even do bookkeeping,” he says. “When I moved down here, this was just a great fit.”

Dan says, “I was always tinkering with stuff and putting things together. I actually worked at a couple of distilleries and was able to bring that experience here. For a couple of months, I even had a mentor who came to Wicked Dolphin and shared his knowledge with me hands on.” When it comes to distilling, he says, “it’s just like cooking, take a couple of ingredients and mix them together and see what you get.”

Joe and Dan have many stories of working together, being twins, and confusion with customers. “All day long people confuse us,” says Joe. “I get customers who go to the distillery for a tour, then come here {Big Blue Brewing] for lunch. They see me and ask ‘How did you get from the distillery to here so fast?’ I have to explain to them that there are two of us.”

Dan mentioned when both of them worked at the distillery, a customer would be talking to one of them, then turn around and do a double-take. JoAnn was quick to call them both out and said sometimes they switch on purpose.

Joe says some of the funnier moments are when “my brother will have a conversation with a customer, then come back into the kitchen, and when I walk out they try to resume the conversation and I have to explain that was my brother you were talking to. Then they challenge us, so we both have to come out and go to their table.”

Working With Passion

When it comes to operating a restaurant, “You do every aspect of the job,” says Dan. “It’s rewarding to see the number of people who come through our facilities and enjoy themselves. We have great people who visit us over and over at both facilities. That is what lets you know your hard work is paying off.”

“It’s the whole creative process and every day it’s something different,” says Joe. When Joe has some down time, he likes to hit Sanibel and relax at the beach where he says, “you won’t be able to reach me for the day.”

The Termini twins also enjoy a round a golf, but scheduling time to be on the links is a bit challenging. Dan says, “Every weekend we say, ‘Let’s try to get out and go golfing.’ It hasn’t happened since October.”  Dan is recently married and he and his wife are expecting a child, so a lot of his free is spent preparing for the baby.

Every Friday at Big Blue, there is a new craft beer introduced, with Mug members being able to sample the new creation an hour before the public can.

One of Big Blue Brewing’s most creative beers to date has been the Peanut Butter and Jelly beer. It has won an award for best beer. It’s actually name is Peanut Butter and Jealous. After it hit the tap, it was gone six hours later.

“Our IPAs and house beers are usually customer favorites,” says Joe. “We did a milk chocolate porter that went over very big. When it comes to food, people love our burgers, our steak sandwiches, and our flatbreads.”

“We really focus on craft cocktails here,” says JoAnn. “They are very unique and we make all the mixers ourselves. We squeeze our own juices and make our own Bloody Mary mix. What keeps everything fresh and unique is that we can experiment here. We don’t want to do or have the same things every day. Our philosophy down here is to use the best ingredients we can and have some fun with it.”

The Future

When it comes to handing the reins to her nephews, JoAnn has nothing but confidence in each of them. “I know their character, I know what they’re capable of doing and I feel very comfortable that it’s in the family. I’m very happy that things are working out.” She is hoping soon to cut her schedule down from six days a week to only four.

Dan is excited with where Wicked Dolphin is and where it’s headed. They were recently named the number one distillery for 2016 by USA Today, and Business of the Year 2016 by the News-Press. “Our goal,” says Dan, “is to keep working hard at it and see where this journey takes us to.”

“We [Big Blue Brewing] are still very new,” says Joe. “We are still working out a couple of kinks here and there, but people love it here. We have live entertainment, trivia night, and we want to watch it as it keeps growing. One goal is to look into distributing our beer into local restaurants and to also just establish ourselves in the community.”

“We treat customers like family,” says Dan. “We try to be as friendly as possible and we get a lot of repeat customers.”

Each establishment also prides itself on using fresh, local ingredients. Joe even mentioned that the kitchens don’t have microwaves. “We want to provide a good meal, an honest meal,” he says.

At Wicked Dolphin, their spiced rum is made with honey from Walker Farms in North Fort Myers, while their coffee and other supplies are purchased within the community. Rum from the Wicked Dolphin Distillery is available in nearly 3,500 locations through the state of Florida, including local package stores in Cape Coral. And they are not sticking to just rum, points out JoAnn.

“We just started to expand into Vodka,” she says, “which is a spirit that sells a lot more than rum. Our sales will increase because of this expansion. We are also getting calls from restaurants where the owner is saying, ‘I was in Big Blue and had a such-n-such beer, I’d like to carry it here.’ We are not in distribution, but this is an area to explore if Joe and Dan want to.”

Every business today needs to have a social media presence, and both Wicked Dolphin and Big Blue Brewing have theirs. Dan says through Facebook they “get the word out about where we are, specials, events, competitions, raffles, and always try to have a picture with our posts.”

When asked if there is third business in their future, Joe said, “You never know what is going to come out of us.”