Northeast Florida Roundup
Fired up: Datil Dew Pepper Products sells liquid fire
Byron Bates owned two steel companies in Fort Lauderdale until about 22 years ago, when he was stricken by post-polio syndrome, confining him to a wheelchair.
In 1992, Bates and his wife, Wanda, moved to north Florida to retire and be close to relatives. After a seafood restaurant owner complained to the couple that he needed a Datil pepper sauce that would not spoil on the shelf and did not need refrigeration, they started Datil Dew Pepper Products, developing a formula using heat to keep the sauces from spoiling.
The Bateses operate the business from their Clay County home, using locally grown peppers. On the Scoville index, a measure of a pepper's "heat" developed in 1912 by chemist Wilbur Scoville, Datil peppers can reach 500,000 Scoville units, about the same as habanero peppers and Scotch bonnets. More common peppers like cayenne peppers range from 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units, while jalapeno peppers produce 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville units of heat.
Although the two grow many of their own peppers, they also buy from two suppliers in St. Augustine. Bates also developed a Super Datil, which is twice as big as a regular Datil pepper.
With the help of their grandson, Jim Fidler, the couple have created a number of products and have even sold Datil pepper seeds.
Fidler developed the company's St. Augustine Sea Sauce. The label pays homage to the nation's oldest city with drawings of the Castillo de San Marco, the lighthouse, a jumping fish, boat and palm trees.
Larry's Giant Subs in Green Cove Springs serves Datil Dew products on its tables as condiments, and pepper products are displayed at the front of the store. But most of the company's products are sold by mail order from its website, DatilDew.com.
Veteran health care lobbyist and Republican strategist Mike Hightower has joined the law firm of Holland & Knight as a senior policy adviser in its Jacksonville offce. Hightower recently retired from Florida Blue, where he was vice president of governmental and legislative relations.
Frank Ruperto, senior vice president/corporate development and strategic planning at Rayonier Advanced Materials, has assumed a new combined role of CFO and senior vice president/finance and strategy.
Jennifer Hart has been named district manager for the Florida Forest Service. She will manage 58 employees and five state forests.
JACKSONVILLE - The city continues to struggle with unfunded pension liabilities. A version of the police and fire pension reform plan has no funding source and must be approved by the Police and Fire Pension Fund board. If the pension board changes or rejects the agreement, the plan goes back to the City Council, or it may end up in court. > Mayor Alvin Brown's re-election campaign is returning money it received from a September fundraiser in New York headlined by Bill Cosby after sexual assault allegations against the comedian. > The Jacksonville City Council has approved a settlement with two outdoor advertising companies. Under the agreement, Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor will be able to keep their existing electronic billboards and build a limited number of new electronic signs. In exchange, areas where billboards are prohibited will expand. The deal will also speed the removal of 85 traditional billboards over the next 10 years. Ten other roads will see a reduction in the number of billboards. > The Downtown Investment Authority has approved a tax rebate for a proposed $23-million specialty brand hotel near downtown Jacksonville. The rebate is worth up to $3.7 million over 20 years. Without admitting wrongdoing, Interline Brands, which distributes lighting, plumbing and janitorial products, has reached a $40-million settlement in a class-action lawsuit over claims the company sent unsolicited fax advertisements, a practice that violates the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the Junk Fax Prevention Act. > Beaver Street Fisheries, a Jacksonville-based wholesale and retail and meat supplier, started a new brand, Grillman's hot dogs. The company's fagship brand, Sea Best, is sold in retailers nationwide. > The federal government has indicted 27 people, 25 of them from northeast Florida, for participating in a scheme to defraud the compensation fund established by BP after the oil spill in 2010. > A new building housing the U.S. Coast Guard and the U. S. Customs and Border Protection will open in early 2016 near the St. Johns River and the Blount Island and Dames Point marine terminals.
PONTE VEDRA - Carey Watermark Investors paid $122 million for the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa from Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs spent $20.3 million to renovate the 511-unit resort in 2014. Carey Watermark plans to spend another $25 million on the property, which will continue to operate under the Marriott brand.
FERNANDINA BEACH - Robin Marley, former director of Fernandina Beach's human resources department, has sued the city, saying it violated Florida's Whistleblower Act when she was fired for voicing concerns over issues in the fire department.
ST. AUGUSTINE - Nancy Shaver has been sworn in as mayor of St. Augustine. She defeated incumbent Mayor Joe Boles, who had been mayor for eight years, by just over 100 votes. Shaver says one of her first tasks is to re-examine how the city will celebrate its 450th anniversary this year.
ST. JOHNS COUNTY - Double Eagle Development is planning a 418-home community. The 165-acre Treaty Oaks will be about 10 miles south of downtown St. Augustine. The community will feature a junior Olympic-sized pool, a fitness center, a playground and community room. Home prices will start in the mid-$200,000s.
Victory Casino Cruises
Since June, Victory Casino Cruises has been sailing twice daily out of Mayport. Through December, it has carried 50,000 passengers. CEO Lester Bullock says the popularity of the Mayport ship matches that of a sister ship operating out of Port Canaveral.
The 229-foot Victory — with 300 slot machines, along with roulette, craps, blackjack, baccarat, poker, bingo and sports betting — carries up to 600 passengers on two daily cruises. More than 20% of the ship's approximately 300 staffers are ex-military.