TALLAHASSEE – Today, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) announced its recently installed 2021 Board of Directors Executive Committee. FRLA is Florida’s premier non-profit hospitality trade association that has provided excellent service to the industry and its members for 75 years. Among the most influential trade associations in Florida, FRLA represents restaurants, lodging establishments, and industry suppliers with 10,000 members from small businesses to the largest businesses in the industry.
The mission of FRLA is to protect, educate, and promote Florida’s hospitality industry, which was a nearly $112 billion industry with 1.5 million employees before the COVID-19 pandemic. The association continues to advocate for hospitality and tourism businesses in Florida as they rebuild from the devasting impacts of the pandemic.
“FRLA is incredibly proud to have such exceptional leadership on our FRLA Executive Committee,” said Carol Dover, President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA). “As Florida hotels and restaurants fight to survive and recover from devastating COVID-19 pandemic impacts, it is critical that we have engaged and passionate people helping our efforts. This year we face new challenges with COVID-19 liability protections, vacation rental regulation, alcohol-to-go, and a proposed federal minimum wage that may eliminate the tip credit for restaurants. This Executive Committee brings more than 200 years of combined experience to build on as we implement innovative and lasting solutions to improve and rebuild our hospitality industry.”
“My main goal as Chairman of the FRLA is keeping our brothers and sisters in business,” said Chef Jim Shirley, 2021 FRLA Chairman of the Board and owner of Chef Jim Shirley Enterprises. “Working with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, we will provide hotels and restaurants with the tools they need to keep their doors open. Our successful advocacy at the state and national levels is critical to the survival of our businesses, and I look forward to making great strides this year.”
Full bios and photos for the Executive Committee are found here.
FRLA’s Executive Committee is comprised of the following:
Chairman: Chef Jim Shirley, Owner of Chef Jim Shirley Enterprises, Santa Rosa Beach
Jim Shirley is a chef and restaurateur in South Walton, Florida, owning Great Southern Café, 45 Central Wine and Sushi Bar, and b.f.f. in Seaside, Florida, as well as The Bay Restaurant and Farm & Fire Southern Pizzeria in South Walton. He is also co-owner of Meltdown on 30A in Seaside. Jim was previously the president of the Northwest Florida FRLA chapter and president of the Escambia County chapter. He is currently the treasurer of FRLA’s Educational Foundation. Jim sits on the board of the Children’s Home Society and was formerly on the Seaside Neighborhood School board for three years. Jim represented Florida in the 2015 Great American Seafood Cook-Off. In addition, Jim has been invited to cook at the James Beard House in New York City four times. He is the author of the cookbook, “Good Grits! Southern Boy Cooks,” a compilation of his best recipes along with entertaining stories. Jim is the 2020 Van Ness Butler Jr. Award recipient. In 2020, Jim was appointed as The Chairman of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA).
Vice Chair: Olivia Hoblit, Regional Manager for Innisfree Hotels, Amelia Island
Olivia Hoblit has more than 22 years of experience in the hospitality industry and is a Regional Manager with Innisfree Hotels, where she oversees Seaside Amelia Inn and the new dual-Marriott brand Courtyard/Springhill Suites in Amelia Island. She rejoined Innisfree Hotels after spending a year as Assistant Rooms Executive at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, a 446-room, AAA Five-Diamond luxury resort. While there, Hoblit served as a member of the team that successfully reopened The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas in 2019. She was nominated as “Marriott Ops Star” for going above and beyond operational expectations. During her previous tenure with Innisfree Hotels, she served for five years was the general manager of the Seaside Amelia Inn.
Prior to her position at Seaside Amelia Inn, Olivia spent seven years as the general manager of the highly acclaimed Elizabeth Pointe Lodge. Under her leadership the lodge received numerous awards for the property, including Travel+Leisure’s 2013 World’s Best Awards where it ranked No. 25 on its list of Top 100 World’s Best Hotel, No. 3 Top Resort in Florida in 2012, and No. 2 Best Hotel in the Continental U.S. in 2008 Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Award. She also received a “Sharky Award from TravelShark in 2012 for Best Guest- Service General Manager.
She also serves as a board member on the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council, Nassau County Chamber of Commerce, and is an Advisory Council member for the University of West Florida Global Hospitality and Tourism Management program. In 2018, she was named one of Florida’s leading women in lodging by Florida Restaurant & Lodging Magazine.
In 2016, Olivia and her husband Phil founded the Trinity Love Hoblit Foundation in honor of their daughter, Trinity, who passed away in 2015 from a brain aneurysm. Olivia serves as President of the foundation, which supports and funds neurological research, training, and treatment for brain aneurysms, strokes, and other cerebrovascular conditions.
Secretary-Treasurer & Restaurant Director 2021-2022: John Horne, Owner of Anna Maria Oyster Bars, Bradenton
A 40-year veteran of the hospitality industry, Horne began his career as a busboy on Anna Maria Island working for a small chain of restaurants. In 1995, he opened the first of his four restaurants. At the Anna Maria Oyster Bars, you will find a fun, friendly place with great staff serving the freshest food at a great value in a family-friendly atmosphere. Horne and his 325 co-workers have received many accolades over the years, including Small Business of the Year awards from the Manatee, Sarasota, and Longboat Key Chambers, over 85 People’s Choice Favorites, as well as community, volunteer, and tourism awards – many related to their Grade-Level Reading program “Dive Into Reading,” which was recognized as the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation’s 2018 National Restaurant Neighbor Award and the US Senate’s Small Business Committee’s Small Business of the Week. Horne has testified before the US House of Representative Ways & Means Committee on the tax effects on small businesses. He and his wife Amanda are passionate about education and travel…and each other!
Restaurant Director 2020-2021: Carlos Gazitua, President & CEO of Sergio’s Family Restaurants, Miami
Carlos Gazitua is CEO of Sergio’s Restaurants and creator of Sergio’s Cuban in South Florida. Gazitua has been a leader in the hospitality for 13 years and is third generation running his family-owned business. Mr. Gazitua was included in Florida’s 500 most influential Business and Hospitality Leaders by Florida Trend Magazine. As CEO of Sergio’s, Gazitua has shared his small business insight as a guest on national news programs and in print publications.
Under his leadership, Sergio’s was awarded “best sit-down restaurant” by South Florida Independent Retailer awards and South Florida’s Tourism Professional Restaurant of the Year Award. In addition, Sergio’s has been featured on prominent national cooking shows. Recently, Gazitua lead Sergio’s to become the first Cuban Restaurant to sell their homemade Cuban food on QVC.
During the Covid-19 crisis, The New York Times featured Sergio’s in its “24 Hours in Pandemic Nation” article and featured Gazitua’s role on the Dade County Re-opening Task Force. Senator Marco Rubio named Sergio’s Restaurants as the Senate Small Business of the Week in recognition of supporting their community and donating thousands of meals to first responders and health care workers. Sergio’s also initiated a grassroot effort with FRLA to provide over 1 million free masks to Florida’s hospitality industry. In 2021, Job Creators Network announced Carlos Gazitua as the Small Business Owner of the Year for advocating on behalf of Main Street and his actions to help his community during the pandemic.
Carlos earned his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and his MBA and Law Degree from Stetson College of Law. He resides in Miami with his wife, Liana Gazitua, and their two young boys.
Lodging Director 2021-2022: Barbara Bowden, Area Managing Director for Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando
Barbara Bowden is the Area Managing Director for Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando, overseeing the operation of the destination’s premier and preferred hotels, including Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, and Loews Sapphire Falls Resort.
Previously, she served as the Complex Managing Director for Loews Sapphire Falls Resort and Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando, overseeing the operation of these two resort hotels, comprising 2,000 guest rooms and 250,000 square feet of meeting space.
Prior to joining Loews Hotels, Bowden served as general manager of the Orange County Convention Center. Before that, she spent 27 years with The Peabody Orlando, working her way through the ranks to become Vice President/General Manager.
In addition to her role on the FRLA Board, she also serves on the Visit Orlando Board of Directors, the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association Board of Directors and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Rosen College Dean’s Advisory Board, and the HSMAI Foundation Board. Previously, Bowden served as Chair of the HSMAI Americas Board and was a member of the AHLA Women in Lodging Executive Board.
Lodging Director 2020-2021: Roger Amidon, General Manager for Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa
As GM since 2012, Roger Amidon is responsible for the operation of Palm Beach County’s only AAA Four-Diamond all-suite beachfront hotel. Under Amidon’s expert leadership, in 2015, Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island was named one of Marriott International’s “Full-Service Hotels of the Year” in its Eastern Region, and he was named “Franchised General Manager of the Year” for its Eastern Region Full-Service Hotels/Resorts.
A longtime Palm Beach resident, Amidon has worked in the hospitality sector since 1983. Joining Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island marked his return to the Marriott brand after serving three years as Executive Director of the Tourist Development Council of Palm Beach County. Prior to that, he served Marriott in roles including Area General Manager for Marriott Palm Beach Gardens, Boca Raton Renaissance and Fort Lauderdale Marriott North. His regional tenure included General Manager positions for the Delray Beach Marriott and Sheraton at CityPlace.
His industry and community relations positions include Chairman of Discover the Palm Beaches; President of the Palm Beach County Hotel & Lodging Association; President of FRLA’s Palm Beach Chapter and board memberships with FRLA State Board, Singer Island Civic Association and Loggerhead Marine Life Center, Riviera Beach Business Council, Coalitions to Senior Leaders and Interns, SunFest, South Florida Fair, and Palm Beach Gardens High School Five Star Magnet Advisory Council.
Immediate Past Chairman of the Board: Sheldon Suga, Vice President & Managing Director of Hawks Cay Resort, Duck Key
Sheldon Suga is a seasoned hospitality executive with more than 35 years of industry experience. He started his career as a room clerk in Niagara Falls Canada for summer employment, which led him to pursue a degree in Hospitality Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. Suga was then accepted into ITT Sheraton’s General Management Training program. During his time with ITT Sheraton, he attained the ITT Ring of Quality Worldwide Team Award and served as general manager at properties in West Hartford, New York City, Halifax, La Jolla, and Los Angeles. He also worked in Tokyo and was country manager for ITT Sheraton. He has worked for Wyndham hotels and resorts as an area director in Atlanta and Puerto Rico. He worked in Orlando at the Gaylord Palms as the VP Hotel Manager and was the opening Senior VP and general manager of the Gaylord National Resort.
Mr. Suga has served as Chapter President of the FRLA Monroe County Chapter and past chair of the District III Advisory Committee of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. He has also served on the board of Tourism Halifax, the Maryland Hotel and Motel Association and as a member of the Maryland Tourism Development Council.
Each Regional Chapter of FRLA also has a local board. For more information on local boards, please contact FRLA. For more information, visit https://frla.org/.