How Jimmy Buffett went from Margaritaville to Easy Street

The grandfather of tropical rock enters the three-comma club thanks to his lucrative licensing business and a heady stack of cash from decades of touring and recording.

By Lisette Voytko. Additional reports by Rob Lafranco, John Hyatt And Jemima McEvoy

Ethe same day is like a vacation for Jimmy Buffett. When Forbes met the singer-songwriter in December 2022, he had just returned from the Bahamas. He will soon fly to Saint-Barth, the Caribbean paradise where he has lived for 30 years. “We’ve seen all kinds of entertainment come and go on this little rock,” Buffett says.

His working days might as well be free time. Buffett, 76, has built a career — and a ten-figure fortune — distilling carefree island vibes into hit songs, merchandise, a restaurant chain, resorts and even gated communities. These five decades in the sun have paid off: Forbes estimates Buffett’s current net worth at $1 billion. (He declined to comment on his fortune.)

The party started in the early 1970s when Buffett landed in Key West, Florida after a few years in Nashville as a fledgling country musician. “The very idea of ​​having a brand or anything, it never occurred to me until I got to Key West,” Buffett said. Forbes in December. On this little spit of sand, just 100 miles from Havana, he played local clubs and gradually forged his tropical rock sound, combining folk, calypso, rock and pop to create an indelible genre.

His breakthrough came with the beachy, easygoing strains of his hit “Margaritaville,” from his 1977 album, Changing latitudes, changing attitudes. The LP went platinum that year and “Margaritaville” became an anthem for its loyal fans, who call themselves Parrotheads. A 1984 licensing deal with Corona beer reinvigorated its radio airplay and helped the lager brand grow from 2% to 17% market share in imported beers in just four years.

As his popularity grew, Buffett noticed more and more counterfeit t-shirts in Key West merchandise stores, for sale without his approval — and with his often misspelled name “Buffet” to boot. He wanted to own his personal brand, so he teamed up with longtime girlfriend Donna “Sunshine” Smith to open the first Margaritaville t-shirt store in Key West in 1985.

“If you’re an artist, if you want to be in control of your life. . . then you have to be a businessman whether you like it or not,” Buffett said. Forbes in 1994. “So the businessman became an artist.”

This single store eventually led to an empire that encompasses bestselling novels (like the 1989 novels Margaritaville Tales), a Broadway musical, the Mailboat Records label and an Internet radio station. Three decades ago, he met John Cohlan, a former CFO whose company invested in several fast food chains. Cohlan then became CEO of Margaritaville Holdings and spun the company into what is now a sprawling global licensing operation that brought in $2.2 billion in sales in 2022 – not including $400 million (estimated sales) of Buffett – according to a source close to the company.

Breaking down Buffett’s billion

The Margaritaville brand spans more than 30 resorts scattered from Manhattan and Palm Springs to the Dominican Republic and Mexico. There are 150 Buffett-themed restaurants, both freestanding and inside resorts across the United States and the Caribbean, serving “Who’s to Blame” margaritas and Jimmy’s Jammin’ Jambalaya. There are casinos in Louisiana and Puerto Rico, Margaritaville clothing and frozen drink mixes, pool floats and pickleball sets. Then there are the distinct alcohol partnerships: Landshark beer and tropical punch (with AB InBev), Margaritaville tequila and, of course, ready-to-drink margaritas and cocktails (both with Sazerac).

His new ventures promise even more 24/7 Buffett fun: Two-night and three-day Caribbean cruises (“Margaritaville at Sea”) offer respite to residential communities in Florida and South Carolina which thousands of Boomer Parrotheads now call home.

Documents reviewed by Forbes reveal that Buffett has a 28% stake in the licensing company estimated to be worth $180 million, plus another $60 million from the tequila and beer business. The rest of his fortune includes approximately $570 million amassed over a lifetime of touring and record sales, a music catalog valued at $50 million, and a $140 million collection from six houses, four planes. and a yacht and shares in Berkshire Hathaway, the investment conglomerate run by Warren Buffett (despite rumors, no report). Not bad for the Pascagoula, Mississippi, who hailed from a family of crabbers and ship captains and spent his young adulthood busking in college and briefly working for the music industry bible. Billboard.

His outsized success made a strong impression even on Omaha’s Buffett, the world’s fifth richest person and an old friend. “I wish there were more Jimmy Buffetts, but there aren’t,” said Warren Buffett Forbes. “Tell Jimmy to keep me in his will!”


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