But before I tell the tale, I need to digress a moment because the way it came to me is almost as amazing as the story itself.
About three months ago, on a flight to visit my farm in Northern Alabama by way of the Nashville airport, I found myself sitting near a friendly lady from Fort Myers Beach when, like kindred Island spirits do, we started chatting about local events and people we knew and it wasn’t long before I realized my newly met conversationalist was Dan Reinfried’s daughter, Dana Gosford. Once you read about Mr. Reinfried and the innumerable things of significance he’s had his hand in, you’ll understand why I got really excited. I told Dana I had asked her father many times to let me write his history for my readers and that, being a self-effacing, private man, he had always turned me down. When Dana said her father might – and might was the operative word at this point – be willing to let me have a go at it at this point in his life, I was hooked.
Dana and I talked about many things on that near three hour flight including the two and a half years I had played saxophone at the Gulfshore Restaurant, where, I learned, she was now essentially managing that venerable beach establishment for her family. You see, The Gulfshore-Cottage is just one of many landmark places that Dan Reinfried both owns and developed over the 67 years he has lived and made his mark on that seven mile strip of sand long known as Estero Island and, since incorporation in December of 1995, the newly named Town of Fort Myers Beach. But much more on that later. The point here is that it was a remarkable thread of life and circumstance that brought Dana and I together on that fateful day to bring Dan’s long untold tale onto the pages of The Sun Bay Paper.
Before we went on our respective ways, we exchanged numbers and Dana promised to see if Dan was ready to let me interview him with an eye towards writing his story for the world. It was hard not to get overly excited but it was an excitement tempered by the certain knowledge that Dan Reinfried has never liked to “blow his own horn” and whether he’d let me do it for him was still well up in the air as far as I was concerned.
Nevertheless, I continued corresponding with Dana and one day she simply said. “Carl my father is ready to let you do this, if you still want it.” Dancing an Irish jig on the head of my pen, I set an interview date and began to mull over the importance of the tale I have been allowed to tell. I hope you enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Dan “The Man” Reinfried - The Man who Built the Beach
“Dedicated Dad, Awesome Developer and Admirable Entrepreneur”
Dan moved to Florida in 1949 but to understand what got him to the Sunshine State we have to go back a bit further, to Greenburg, Pennsylvania where he was born March 27, 1924. Dan’s early life included the obligatory 12 years of public school with many of those years being President of his class, ending with a High School diploma. Like many young men, he went on to college and became President of his fraternity but only finished a little over 2 years at Ohio Wesleyan “before they threw me out,” he said to much partying and not enough studying.. In reality, He didn’t feel those years at the university were wasted. He studied psychology and claims what he learned about human nature “helped him later in life.”
He also spent a summer working at a girl’s school in Seaton Hill, Pennsylvania as part of his studies and later put an end to his collegiate life at Franklin Marshall in the picturesque Amish section of PA.
His reason for leaving before he earned a degree says a lot about one of Dan’s strongest core values; a seemingly endless capacity to work.
“It was after the war and the country was going back to work and I wanted to work too,” he said.
After volunteering with the Army Air Corp for eight months and seeing Nashville and St. Louis, Dan returned to Greenburg and began his long illustrious career as an entrepreneur. He opened a car dealership and spent the next three years honing his skills in business.
“I really liked selling cars, I was my own boss and it taught me about how to talk to people and sell things,” he said with obvious pride in his first start-up. It seems like lady luck has always found a perch on Reinfried’s shoulders. Once, driving his pride and joy, a new Buick Roadmaster he got caught doing over a 120 in a forty zone so he lost his license, but true to his rabbit’s foot, the judge gave him “occupational driving privileges” and as Dan says, “since I had to drive all the time showing cars and I had dealer’s plates it never made any difference,” he said with a slight glint in his eye.
Dan has never been the type of man to let grass grow under his feet, so when an opportunity came up to go to do some travelling, he jumped on it.
“We used to go with my parents and drive down to the Atlantic in New Jersey. We had a cousin there and that is where I really started to fall in love with the ocean.”
Dan’s cousin – Oscar and his wife Daisy – who worked at Wannamaker’s and owned a 50’ foot yacht that they frequently took to Florida. On one particular trip they invited me to take the Intercoastal with them through Lake Okeechobee to see the west coast of Florida. They had told my dad John that the area reminded them of Jersey before it had become so populated and built up. His decision to make that trop changed his life forever.
“I came down to Fort Myers Beach and the moment I saw it, I liked it so much I went back to Pennsylvania, sold out lock, stock and barrel and moved to the island.
Now Reinfried didn’t come with empty pockets. He had amassed a lot of cars and had his thriving dealership and no sooner than his feet landed on Estero Island, Dan started looking for a place to put his money to work. At that time, the “gold” on Fort Myers Beach was pink – shrimp that is, “Pink Gold” as they liked to say when they talked about the big, plump shrimp that are prized throughout the world as the best shrimp to be found anywhere.
“When I was told how much they were getting for these shrimp, I was ready to get in on the action so I bought a boat and went into the shrimping business,” a decision he says he never regretted.
Now Dan just didn’t buy any boat but how he made his choice also shows how close he was to some of the pioneering families on Fort Myers Beach.
“I met and became good friends with Scoop and Don Kiesel. The Kiesel boys were legendary shrimpers from the time they bought their first boat. Don had bought a Gibbs boat – I think he named her St. Cecilia- anyway it was one of the fastest and most beautiful boats around. They only made two of them, and I remember we used to go to the Tortugas to shrimp. That was the best place to go before they discovered Campeche.”
Not to be outdone by Don Kiesel and keeping with the fun rivalry common amongst watermen, Dan went to St. Augustine and bought the “Commodore Perry” from a man who made boats named Crazy Manuel.
“I worked that boat for five years. I caught a lot and I mean a lot of shrimp. We had a few slow times, it’s true but mostly the business was booming. I had 2-4 hands working on the boat and they got a percentage of the catch. There was no guarantee in those days, I can tell you that. But we were taking all pinks and they were all large shrimp. We did our own heading on board so we were always busy. It was a good life and a good living. I didn’t save a lot of money but at that time shrimp boats were appreciating rapidly so I knew if I decided to get out of the business I’d be able to make money on the boat and keep the capital from my car dealership intact.”
Dan’s decision to quit shrimping was to be even more fateful that his decision to move to Florida.
“I got a call from a childhood friend who had lived with me and my parents for a while during grade school in Pennsylvania – Malcolm Young. Malcolm was a graduate from Vanderbilt University and he had become a geologist and was living in Wyoming. He called and said what he had found out West was ‘made for me’ so off I went to the American West. When I got there Malcolm took me out to the country and showed me my first oil rig. It was to prove to be the beginning of a long journey.”
Once again, Dan sold everything he owned which was basically the shrimping business and boat and made a big move.
“By the time I made it back to the West, Malcolm had started to work for Gulf Oil and was now living in Denver so I moved in with him. I met a fellow who lived behind us, his name was Lee Martin and he’d worked for Sinclair Oil but really wanted to go out on his own but he was broke. I had the money and he knew the oil business so we formed a partnership – Martin and Reinfried. We opened up an office on 16th Street in downtown Denver where all the action was at and we were officially in the oil business.”
Martin and Reinfried put some drilling deals together, but at first they didn’t do so well, hitting one dry hole after another. It was a money intensive business with a lot of variables so they decided to take on some additional partners. With the company now more robust their luck turned.
“We finally had some producing wells in Yuma County, Colorado and at that point finally had a successful oil company,” Dan enthusiastically said.
Eight years and 48 wells later, life was very good indeed for the young entrepreneur from Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. And then, like many young men who find their fortunes improved, Dan finally made what he called the “big decision” and got married.
“I met my wife in Denver in 1956. She was an Arkansas beauty and her name was Alice James. She was a model and worked for Patricia Stevens Modeling Agency, a company that is still active in Kansas City.”
It was to be the only marriage for Dan; one that endured until Alice’s untimely death in 1985.
“We had three girls together – Stacey, Greta and Dana – in that order. All of my girls were born in Denver while I was in the oil business, but it wasn’t long before they became island girls on the beach.” The girls attended the beach Elementary School back then when is did not have air conditioning.
“I always liked the weather in Florida and to tell the truth, I’d missed it all those years in Denver. I still had my same three partners and my individual interest in all our working wells. I felt like I was getting rich so I had the money to fulfill a vision I had held close for many years – I wanted to build things to develop property, so my mind turned back to Fort Myers Beach, where my heart had always been. In the late 1960’s I talked to Malcolm Young and we both formed a partnership and bought the tract of land and built 32 motel units and named it The Outrigger Motel. We eventually brought in 2 more friends to become our partners and formed our corporation.
In 1967, the 32 unit motel was built and the Reinfried family moved to the Island in 1968 to open for business. We lived in the 2 bedroom apartment attached to the front office of the motel. I opened the door and went to work.
“I bought a house where the current Gull Wing Condominium is now and we lived there for 17 years. At that time, it was the most expensive and nicest house on the island. We paid a whopping $75,000 for it. I remember it so well because we were on the front page of the NewsPress with a picture of Ray – the guy who sold me the house – handing me the keys and the headline read: “Highest Price Paid on Fort Myers Beach.”
My three girls attended The Beach Elementary School.
Dan also tried to buy what is now the Mound House from Mrs. Long when she still had it. “Every few weeks I’d make her an offer but I never did get her property,” said the affable business scion.
This was one of the busiest times of Reinfried’s life. He was still actively involved in the oil wells out West and frequently flew into Page Field downtown going back and forth to Colorado, but mostly he kept buying land on Fort Myers Beach. Daughter Stacey remembers this time well.
"We had bought some lots initially but Dad had also acquired the land where the Outrigger is now, at least part of it in 1967. We had already put in 37 units when we got here and in 1968 we opened for business. Sometimes it seems like yesterday. We lived in an efficiency right on the property in the same place the office is now. “We'd just open the door and go to work. I started out cleaning the rooms when I was 12 years old. It was called the Outrigger Motel at that time," said Stacey who also whimsically remembers lighting the tiki torches at the Motel.
Dana also reflects fondly on those years. “My dad taught me hard work ethics at a very young age, it did not matter how unglorified the job was; pulling weeds, cleaning rooms or washing dishes, we got the job done To this day I have a strong work ethic and could not have learned from a better mentor or teacher than my dad,” Dana recalled with obvious pride in her father.
All three of Reinfried’s daughters seem to genuinely feel their father was a firm but loving role model who taught them values that have endured in their lives right up to the present. Dan’s daughter, Greta reminds us all that her father was not only a stellar businessman with great acumen but he was first and foremost a warm, loving father.
“You can write about my father’s accomplishments as a successful business man – and he certainly was - but most importantly, he is a loyal, generous, kind and loving man who would give anyone the shirt off his back. The true success of a person is how much they love and how much they are loved. My father is loved by many.’
“Everything he did was for one reason - his devotion and love for his family. I am proud to call him my Dad.”
So, with his three daughters at his side, Dan continued to expand his reach on the Island.
His next move was to build three single family houses on the street that runs besides what is now Charley’s Boat House Grill. He also built one duplex to round out his residential building spree. The duplex is a vacation rental property on a canal with boat dock and pool called “Dock of The Bay Villas” that Dana manages.
Then came the Rancho Del’ Mar and the acquisition of the north side of the Outrigger property, a combination to make the parcel what it is today. Rancho Del Mar was the first motel built on the island. The Rancho Del Mar was operated for several years before being demolished in the early 70’s to build an additional 104 motel units to the 32 units we already had, We kept 8 of The Rancho Del Mar motel rooms giving us a total of 144 motel rooms and efficiency’s and that is what’s still there today recalls Dan with pride.
What Dan recalls about that time on the beach was seeing the first electric light and the first swimming pool on the island. “It may not seem like anything now, but it was a big deal back then.
“I think of the 1970’s and 80’s as my biggest development period. I built the Kahlua with my partner Charlie Cutaia and what we did was convert it from a hotel to the 1st interval ownership on the beach.”
Launching interval ownership was a huge gamble for Dan since it was not well accepted by the public when it was introduced, but once it caught on, it became a huge money maker for the Reinfried family. “It took me to another level and we just kept going.”
“We bought the lot at Charley’s when it really was just a boathouse, that’s why it’s called Charley’s Boathouse Grill. If fact, the original boathouse is still built into the property and even though it is much larger because of what I did there, when you sit in the restaurant the part overlooking the water is the original part of the building,” explained Dan.
In the 70’s Reinfried and his partners bought a 17 acre tract on the back- bay called the Mid-Island Marina purchase. They put in a seawall, operated the marina for a while and thought about developing it but had an offer to good to refuse and sold it in the mid 80’s to another developer who built what is now one of the premier addresses on the Island, the gated community of Ocean Harbor. The remainder of the property was sold to Publix and what is now Snook Bight Marina and The Bayfront Bistro.
It was in this same time frame that Dan discovered the Gulfshore Inn.
“When we bought it there were several small cottages and the Inn, and it was being ran as an Inn and restaurant”
At that time, the property was relatively undeveloped, essentially a beach cottage with a dining room adjacent to four 1 bedrooms units. Yet again, with his enduring vision of greater potential, the indefatigable Reinfried got busy and transformed the Inn into the restaurant that is now the Gulfshore and the small beach cottage into what is now The Cottage Bar. Keeping things in the family, daughter Dana is currently the managing partner of both operations.
It is easy to get lost in Dan’s developments, but he still found ample time to put his imprimatur on beach society. For example, Dan and his friend Bob Brown were instrumental in bringing the Power boat racing to Fort Myers Beach. Always trying to find ways to give back to the Island community that had so heartily welcomed him, Dan became very active as a Shriner, working to help with their children’s hospitals and other worthy causes. Dan also served as President of the first Beach Chamber of Commerce (no connection to the current chamber) where he once helped crown a Shrimp Festival Queen. His energy and creatively seemed boundless.
At this point in my interview daughter Stacey said quite poignantly, “My dad was rocking the island with his projects.”
Indeed he was; so much so that his friends, business associates and neighbors started calling him “Dan the Man.”
Yes, the family was booming - working their tails off. Running motels, renting houses, managing oil rigs out west, operating restaurants, it was a whirlwind of meaningful activity.
And Dan had no intention of stopping at this point. He found out that a fellow in York, Pennsylvania owned what is now the Bel Air Beach Club so he grabbed his checkbook, hopped on a flight and came back the owner of what was at that time the acreage and about 10 beach cottages.
“I sold the cottages and they moved them to the area at the bridge between Captiva and Sanibel, on the Sanibel side and then I developed 24 units and sold them all as time shares. That’s what they still are but this was one time I sold out all my interests in the property and just took the profits.”
With those profits mounting, perhaps Dan’s next move should not have been a surprise to anyone – he started the First Independence Bank with five other investors. First Independence later sold to Colonial Bank and instead of taking profits again, Dan took Colonial stock. It turned out to be one of the few bad business decisions Dan has made in his life, since it was not too much later than Colonial has to close its doors and though it’s deposits and assets were bought by BB & T Bank, stockholders were left holding the proverbial bag which in this case was empty.
“I lost close to a million dollars on that deal and giving meaning to the phrase “when it rains, it pours I also took a substantial loss on Enron Stock when it went bust I lost another 100 thousand,” he said sadly.
To assuage these losses it should be noted Dan still owns the land and building on Fort Myers Beach housing BB&T right to this day. That building Dan purchased years ago when it was a Texaco Gas station and he converted it to a commercial rental property that Greta is managing partner.
A lesser man might have taken those losses as a sigh that is was time to take it easier but then again giving up is not in Reinfried’s nature.
He bought a tract of land in the late 70s’s at the south end of the island where Carolos Pointe Beach Club now stands.
“We bought the land and this time we built 105 units from scratch. Some were two bedrooms and the units went all the way up to 4 bedroom penthouses,” he mused.
Dan sold 94 condos over the years but kept 11 units for his family to rent. Those units were vacation rental condos that for many years were operated by Alice and the girls. We rented the units and we cleaned the units every weekend. Stacey noted.
Eventually most of those were sold keeping two four bedroom condos. One of the condos is our four bedroom penthouse and we operate it as a luxury vacation rental called Penthouse Dream. Stacey advertises and markets the rental of the Penthouse and Dana serves as managing partner. Carlos Point was a big development and it made Dan a lot of money. Of course he already had made a fortune several times over.
I asked Dan if he was finally through developing and a wistful look came into his eyes as he mused about four lots he owns in Fairview Isles……..”Maybe I’m not done yet!”
Dan bought 4 lots in Fairview Isles in the 70’s that are adjacent to one another on the canal with a boat Dock. Greta is the managing partner for this property.
When I wondered out loud what made his life so successful, Dan didn’t hesitate. “It’s important to do something you love and I’ve always loved to build things, create something substantial. Developing was fun for me and my life has been well lived.”
Dana added a practical reason for Reinfried’s success. “My dad didn’t mind working and often worked 18 hours a day.”
Today, most of Dan’s family business is ran by his daughters, but make no mistake about it, while he may be 92, Dan Reinfried’s mind is still sharp as they come. Not once during a four hour interview did he ever seem at a loss of words or memory. Frankly, I’ve known Dan since 1992 or 93 and he’s always been very clear minded, but I was still astounded just how well his mind works. He is an amazing man and he doesn’t really brag about anything. Despite the fact he told me he was ready to tell his story, I still had to draw out the details. Dan has a genuine self-effacing nature; he’s humble but in a quiet, strong way, like the still waters that run deep.
I felt it was appropriate to let someone much closer to Dan have the final word so I asked his eldest daughter, Stacey if she’d tell the world about her Dad. I think you will agree she was a good choice.
I have such fond memories of the life I have spent with my Dad; my Dad had a vision and a dream. That dream was to move back to Fort Myers Beach, develop the island, and create a legacy for his children. Dad was already a successful businessman in the oil industry with a wife and 3 kids, but at the age of 43, he loaded a U-Haul truck with all our belongings and we left Colorado headed for the Sunshine State. When we arrived to Fort Myers Beach the original 32 units at the Outrigger had just been completed. I remember like it was yesterday helping to get the motel ready to open for business. We all had a job to do in preparation for the grand-opening. My Mom, Dad and I would go room to room inspecting every detail of the guest rooms to ensure it was all perfect. All forks, knifes, spoons, plates, glasses, pots and pans were placed meticulously in each kitchen. My dad taught me how to make the beds for the motel guests and I remember the instructions vividly to this day- Tuck in the bottom sheet, hold up the sides, tuck in the corners, and let the sides fall over. My Dad wanted each room to be as nice as the next because that’s the way he is; he always took a tremendous amount of pride in everything that he did during his life-time.
What my Dad has accomplished in his life is commendable by any standard; I have always and continue to admire his determination and desire to succeed. He always held his head high, never let anything or anyone bring him down, and trudged forward. I remember one time he told me when I was a young girl, “Stacey when you’re in business, you must put your emotions aside”. He was self-motivated, determined, persistent and dedicated. He is truly the most hard-working, caring, and generous man I will ever know. He rarely complains, desires very little for himself, and he is always so humble. Nothing was ever handed to him; he accomplished everything on his own.
Those who were fortunate enough to be in his inner-circle were truly blessed. Not only did he want to create a legacy for his family, but for his close friends and business partners as well. His best friend and business partner Malcolm Young once said, “Everything Dan touches turns to Gold”.
My sisters and I learned a strong work ethic at a very young age. Growing up on the beach was not all fun and games when you were a Reinfried child. At 12 years old I would clean motel rooms every Saturday and Sunday mornings at the Outrigger. Then it was back home to mow the lawn and pull weeds which included sandspurs! After that, it was time to head up to Gulf Shore Restaurant to make the Key Lime pies for the evening meal. My sister’s hand washed the dishes at the restaurants because we did not have dishwashers at the time. I was hostess and waitress at both of our restaurants, Charley Brown’s and the Gulfshore.
Dad always left the house at 7:00 AM and returned each day at 6:00 PM for a 1 hour dinner break; it was at that time that we would all catch-up on the events of the day and have some family time. He would then go back to the Outrigger until he closed it each night at 10:00 PM. This same routine was 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Holidays were just another work day and he rarely took vacations; my Dad was determined to provide for his family by working tirelessly throughout each year.
As children, we did not realize that all this hard work was the blueprint and foundation of this great legacy our Dad was creating for his family. He has given our children (his Grandchildren) an opportunity to all attend private schools and Colleges in order to earn degrees for bright futures, he knew by providing these educational opportunities, we would all have a solid foundation to be successful. My dad’s generosity did not stop with his family; he offered his generosity to many other people of SW Florida in order for them to get ahead in life. My Dad has given back so many times and helped so many people over the last 50 years; this was just something he wanted to do.
I remember when I was 12 years old my Dad and I went to a neighborhood of the less fortunate and gave everyone a turkey for Thanksgiving. We went door-to door and greeted each stranger with a smile and gift of food for their holiday. My dad wanted to be sure that we were thankful for what we had and teach us the importance of giving back.
My sisters and our spouses, our children, and Grand-children are so thankful for the legacy he has built for us. We admire everything he has accomplished and he is by far the most influential man in our lives. We are so grateful and blessed to have this man as our Dad, Father in law, and Grandpa; he is our rock star and our real life hero.
God has a plan for all of us and looks after those that have done good deeds and are good people; my dad is one of those special people that thought of others before himself.
As the saying goes, ‘Anyone can be a father, but it takes a special man to be a DAD’.
Next month, on March 27, 2016, Dan Reinfried will turn 92. My hat is off to this remarkable Islander. He has left his mark on so much of our local history. I am both proud and humbled that he chose to let me tell his tale. There is no doubt in my mind that Dan still has a chapter or two in him and I hope he lets me chronicle those as well. Dan Reinfried - The Man who built the Beach - a dedicated dad, awesome developer and admirable entrepreneur”