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Wicked Dolphin receives Horizon Council honor

By Staff | Sep 2, 2016

In the four short years that Wicked Dolphin Rum has been in business, it has become one of the fastest-growing and most recognizable and feted businesses in Cape Coral.

Last week, at the 25th annual Industry Appreciation Awards at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Estero, hosted by the Horizon Council and Lee County Economic Development, Wicked Dolphin earned the award for Emerging Business Leader.

The award is given to a relatively new company that has experienced significant growth in areas such as sales and practices that have catapulted them to the top of their field.

Joanne Elardo, owner of Wicked Dolphin, said it was a great honor to win.

“It’s nice that the local community has been so great at supporting us. It’s nice to bring this home for Cape Coral. This honors new, innovative businesses in Lee County,” Elardo said. “I was honored to get it in front of so many esteemed colleagues.”

The company was judged on growth, market share and innovation. It scored highly in all three categories.

“Wicked Dolphin was a perfect choice for that and the judges scored them quite high,” said Amy McQuagge, marketing and sales coordinator for the Lee County Economic Development Office. “They have gone from a two-person operation to 15 and have even become a tourist attraction.”

Iberia Bank, which opened offices in Cape Coral in 2009, won the Citizenship Award, which is given to a company that has demonstrated financial and volunteer support for philanthropic organizations.

Iberia donated more than $50,000 in 2015 to charitable organizations, McQuagge said.

Wicked Dolphin opened in July 2012 with two employees, Elardo and her nephew, and three flavors of rum. They would go to special events and give free samples of their products to prospective customers.

Today, Wicked Dolphin employs 14 full-time workers and more than 20 part-timers statewide who serve as salespeople and brand ambassadors.

Their distillery brings in 25,000 people per year for tours, something they lobbied the state legislature to allow, along with tastings.

“Not only have they brought a brand-new industry to Lee County, but have also enhanced tourism as well,” McQuagge said.

They have also partnered with many local restaurants to sell their products, of which they have eight currently.

Elardo declined to release sales information, but would said business has been up sharply with the sales of new rum. Walmart has recently ordered their run for 50 of its stores.

“We have a very good team here that produces a very good rum, and soon vodka. It’s a lot of work and I’m working more than I ever thought, but there’s a lot of love going into the business,” Elardo said. “It’s our team that makes it.”

Wicked Dolphin will expand further in the not-so-distant future. Big Blue Brewing will open in the South Cape on Oct. 1. In November, they will debut Wicked Dolphin Vodka and have also purchased property to the south of their location in preparation for possible expansion in 2018.

Among the other winners, Gary V. Trippe earned The Bruce T. Gora Legacy Award, created in honor of the late Bruce T. Gora.

Bailey’s General Store on Sanibel received the LocalLEE Grown Award, presented to a company that was founded in Lee County and displays operational success.