homepage logo

JoAnn Cape entrepreneur finalist for FGCU award, Cape Spirits – Wicked Dolphin Rum

By Staff | Apr 17, 2015

JoAnn Elardo is much more than an entrepreneur. She is a philanthropist who makes a difference in the community.

The Cape Coral entrepreneur, who owns Cape Spirits – Wicked Dolphin Rum – has been named as one of the four finalists for the 2015 Florida Gulf Coast University’s Distinguished Entrepreneur Award, which is given by FGCU’s Small Business Development Center to recognize the best businesses in Southwest Florida.

The award puts the spotlight on Southwest Florida’s most dynamic entrepreneurs, those who risk it all and put in the hours to make things happen.

Elardo said she is surprised she is the one being named, since it takes a team to have success.

“We have a great team. The team and our community and some loyal customers have helped. You make a product and have loyal customers, you’ll have success,” Elardo said.

Past winners include Norman Love, of Norman love Confections, who won the first award in 2012.

The Cape Coral Economic Development office nominated Elardo because of the way it has seen her firm grow, with more to come in the future.

“She’s a dynamic lady. She’s what we call a serial entrepreneur. She wasn’t ready to retire, so she got this idea to make a Florida product,” said Dana Brunett, Cape Coral’s Economic Development director.

Elardo moved to Cape Coral in 2008. Two years later, she came up with the idea to manufacture rum, using Florida ingredients, that would be distributed and sold throughout the state.

“She found a building, rehabbed it and got things going. Now, they’re quite successful at what they’ve been doing,” Brunett said. “It shows the entrepreneurial spirit here and it brings focus to the city and to the business.”

Today, Cape Spirits is the largest craft rum distiller in South Florida. Wicked Dolphin Rum is available in more than 2,000 locations throughout Florida.

In February, Wicked Dolphin launched its products in South Carolina, and will soon be made available in Georgia and Maryland, climbing to eight states by October.

More than 10,000 people have also toured the facility and/or tasted her product since it opened.

Elardo’s other passion is charity work. Wicked Dolphin’s community participation has amounted to more than $150,000 given to a host of local non-profits from the Golisano Children’s Hospital to Relay for Life, Ronald McDonald House and more.

Elardo is a founding board member for Toast for Hope, an annual fundraiser for Hope Hospice in Cape Coral. She also raises funds to bring an animal shelter to Cape Coral.

At the first Cape Coral-specific shelter fundraiser in May 2014, hosted by Wicked Dolphin, more than $300,000 was raised for the construction of the facility. A prohibition-themed party held on Feb. 28, grossed $27,000 for the project.

The charities have been great in supporting us. It’s been more a community thing. We love the job and the team loves the job and we’re making some good spirits here.” Elardo said. “I’ve been lucky in life. If you don’t give, who will? Everyone can make a difference. You just have to take that first step.”

The fourth annual Distinguished Entrepreneur Event will be held Tuesday, May 19, from 6 to 9 p.m., at the Hyatt Regency at Coconut Point in Bonita Springs.

The other nominees are Christopher Spiro, owner of Spiro & Associates, Marketing, Advertising, and Public Relations, Mark Loren, owner of Mark Loren Designs, and Gary K. Mart, owner of Global Tech LED.