We’re kicking off a brand new feature here today on EpiphanyDigest: Sarasota Entrepreneur Profiles. We’ll be writing up local entrepreneurs who have caught our attention, and tell you why! First up: Steve Rinehart.
If you’d like to nominate someone, leave us a note in the comments below.
Those of you who know me well already know this: I’m a huge fan of entrepreneurs.
Especially the “chase your dream, innovate and adapt as necessary, and work really hard ’til you see it come about” variety.
And this is precisely why I was intrigued when I first met Steve Rinehart. It was about two and a half years ago now, and a good friend of mine was providing some entertainment in a local night club venue. He suggested that I meet up with the owner, because he had real vision but had run into some difficulties in the business.
The venue was “The Loft Ristobar,” and it was located in the building that had previously housed Sarasota’s highly popular Tex-Mex chain restaurant, Don Pablo’s.
The Loft was a concept that was either ahead of its time, or perhaps just better suited to a bigger market. But the idea, I thought, was brilliant. Restaurant by day, live entertainment venue in the evenings, and then… after hours on weekends, it transformed into a full-on night club.
But, as you might imagine, those are at least two (and possibly three) different businesses all rolled up into one. This meant that the business was surprisingly complex, with lots of areas that needed specific attention.
Creating a clear marketing message out of the three of them was what I was immediately tasked with doing. Let’s just say it wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever been asked to do.
And to top it all off, Rinehart Homes, Steve Rinehart’s day job, was busy and complicated enough that it demanded lots of his time and most of his attention. The management Steve had in place at The Loft did a bang-up job, but it just wasn’t enough to get the concept to really take off.
Why Not Franchise?
As Steve related to me, many times during the course of his time operating The Loft Ristobar, people would come in and ask about Don Pablo’s. Where did it go? What happened to it?
The reality was that the Sarasota store had long been one of the chain’s top-performing restaurants. But when the parent corporation ran into financial troubles, it closed all but 38 stores—the ones that were geographically easier for them to manage. A new company bought the brand and those 38 stores out of bankruptcy and they were doing OK.
The idea of coming back to Sarasota was a good one, but the company wasn’t ready to take the plunge yet as they were taking a measured approach to growth.
So Steve did what any enterprising entrepreneur would do: he seized the opportunity and negotiated the chain’s first-ever franchise deal. In May of 2012, five years or so after it had closed, Sarasota’s Don Pablo’s reopened as a franchise operation.
That business has been through its fair share of ups and downs, but today it is humming along with a great management team in place. Steve has high hopes for its future.
In the meantime… Sarasota’s real estate market had begun to pick up.
Building Custom Homes in Sarasota
Since 1994, when Steve Rinehart first obtained his Florida General Contractor’s license, he had attacked the home-building business with gusto. Not one to get stuck depending upon others, Steve went out and got his roofing license and a pool contractor’s license as well. This enabled him to be highly flexible and churn out homes at a surprising rate.
The business model is pretty simple in this world: you find a big tract of land and make a deal. Then you carve it up, stick up a model home or two, and build a community.
Steve’s reputation—and that of his boutique team—in that business is very good. Over the years, he and his team have built more than 300 homes that way, and provided many affordably-priced, but very nice homes for a lot of people.
But as he tells it, when the real estate market starts to heat up—especially in an intrinsically attractive market like Sarasota/Bradenton—bigger and bigger national players are willing to come in and pay far more for land than it’s worth.
That makes this business less and less attractive to a boutique team like Steve’s.
And so… the handful of higher-end projects that Steve had taken on in the last few years had started to become more and more interesting.
With a few completely custom projects on Sarasota’s Siesta Key (along with a high-end renovation or two) under his belt, Steve decided it was time to launch another new entrepreneurial venture.
With the help of 20-year veteran real estate investor Joel Match, Steve recently launched Rinehart Elite Homes. Their first project under this new name? A gorgeous home in Lakewood Ranch’s exclusive golf course community, The Concession.
As you might imagine, Steve’s life is never boring. But given his passion for excellence, his hands-on attention to detail, and the track record of satisfied home owners, I think it’s safe to say that Rinehart Elite Homes is going to be a luxury home builder to contend with.