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Cover – John & Denise Saputo

John & Denise Saputo Gold Coast Eagle Distributing

John & Denise Saputo

Gold Coast Eagle Distributing

The King & Queen Of Beer For Charity

Cover Photography By James Corwin Johnson

The numbers just get bigger every year: 450 golf tournaments, 1,400 external events, 250 corporate events, 50 yacht excursions.
ALL FOR CHARITY

There’s no other business in the Sarasota/Manatee area, and beyond, impacting so many people’s lives, in so many ways.

Meet the owner of Gold Coast Eagle Distributing, John Saputo. He’s a third-generation beer wholesaler. John was 8 years old when he first began is the beer business, working for his grandfather’s and father’s distributorship in Michigan, sweeping his way up through the ranks.

Venturing out on his own, in 1977 he purchased his first distributorship in Raleigh, NC. A series of distributorships later found him and his family in Sarasota when he purchased Gold Coast Eagle Distributing in 1996. And as they say, the rest is history.

John & Denise Saputo Gold Coast Eagle Distributing

I first met John in the mid 2000’s when the Gold Coast Eagle facility was east of 301 in Sarasota, before the construction and move to the opulent facility in Lakewood Ranch (Which was built to survive a category 3+ hurricane, is self-contained/sufficient and available as a command post for emergency responders/government in times of emergency).

At the time I was involved in a sports entertainment business, met John through an acquaintance, and he was ready to do what he could to help our organization out. And he did.

That’s the backbone of John Saputo. There are numerous stories of individuals reaching out in times of necessity and John tapping his vast network seeking a solution for their needs. Our requirements at the time pale in comparison to the actions he has performed on behalf of others.

Asking what molded him into the individual he is, John shares, “It started when I was at the University of Detroit High School. The Jesuit institution’s dogma was, ‘You will give back. You will be there for others’. When I entered Marine Officer training their motto was, ‘Never leave a man behind. Always on the offensive’. Those guidelines made an indelible impression on me. Following those principles what I learned was if you give back to others, the payback is double.”

Managing all of Gold Coast Eagle’s charitable activity is Captain Hugh Shields (He is a real Captain piloting the 62’ Golden Eagle III Yacht). Hugh is the keeper of the keys, controlling and coordinating the myriad of charitable activities taking place each month. If you just add the numbers up on average that’s almost 200 events a month.

Hugh adds, “There’s over 5,000 charities locally and the number continues to grow. Big or small there’s no discriminating at Gold Coast Eagle.”

A few local charitable events they support, that most will relate to, are the upcoming Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix, Thunder by the Bay, LWR Main Street, Forks & Corks, Beertopia and Bradenton Area River Regatta. The full list is too extensive to publish here.

Participating in the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix as a Turn Boat
Participating in the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix as a Turn Boat

ESPN’s Dick Vitale asserts, “John represents all that is good about our country. He is a born leader who has influenced the lives of many and is a winner in the ‘Game of Life’.”

John’s desire to give and make an impact goes well beyond our area.

Annually, Gold Coast Eagle participates in Step Up for Students. Step Up for Students is an education program in Florida providing low income students with tuition for private school or assistance to attend an out of district public school. This past year $6.8 million of excise taxes collected on beer by Gold Coast Eagle was voluntarily directed into this program by the firm, providing 950 scholarships.

In addition to charity John believes whole heartedly in equality and social justice. Let’s step back in time.

John led the 1st successful program to integrate an all-white Teamster’s Beer Drivers Union in Detroit by training African Americans skills to succeed in the beer profession. This program forced the segregated union to accept his trainees in this closed shop industry, enabling him to become the 1st beer distributorship to employ African Americans as driver/salesmen in Detroit.

As chairman of the Vietnam War monument committee, John’s team raised $400,000 to erect a life size monument called “After the Fight”, depicting three American servicemen, including an African American, in an emotional and heroic scene transporting a seriously wounded comrade. The monument was placed on North Carolina’s capital grounds. At the time many hate groups considered these to be hallow grounds and John received several substantiated death threats. Refusing the intimidation tactics, he stayed in Raleigh (Always a family man, he did send his family back to hometown Michigan till things passed over).

John promoting the brand in the Suncoast Charities for Children VIP tent
John promoting the brand in the Suncoast Charities for Children VIP tent

Later he promoted an African American employee from within his Anheuser-Busch distributorship in North Carolina to a senior management position. This was the 1st African American in the beverage industry promoted to senior management in Eastern North Carolina. Many other soft drink and beer distributorships followed his lead.

In the late 1980’s, John and a few local business owners mounted a movement to integrate a local country club that was still using a “blackball” membership system. John and his wife, Denise, refused numerous membership requests from the club’s board of directors to join based on the club’s policies. Their fight to integrate the club was successful. A local six-figure salaried executive became the 1st African American to join the club, breaking an almost 65-year non-integration policy.

“I certainly paid a price for my beliefs,” he reminisces, “but it was the right thing to do.”

John’s contributions go beyond the confines of U.S. soil. As a Marine he saw active duty in the military as a Marine Officer from 1972-1976 in stations across the U.S., including time on the USS Anchorage. Upon discharge and entering the Marine Corp Reserve he was promoted to Captain and that’s where things get interesting. Keep in mind he is still the Commander in Chief of his business during these military excursions while in the reserves.

Denise and John with Poonam Maini at her benefit event for Share Care Global
Denise and John with Poonam Maini at her benefit event for Share Care Global

Now a Major, in late November 1990 Major Saputo’s Company Alpha, 4th Amphibian Vehicle Battalion, was activated during the Persian Gulf War’s Operations Desert Shield/Storm sailing over 14,000 miles to the Persian Gulf. There he served 9 months.

On D-Day, Major Saputo took his unit ashore at Al Mishab, Saudi Arabia. Entering Kuwait, the Major led his Marines across unsecured deserts littered with hidden mine fields and dangerous unexploded ordnance. Leading 53 armored Amtracs (personnel carriers) and 275 men, the unit advanced to within 28 miles of Kuwait City near the bombed and destroyed Al Jaber Airport. There the troops halted for the Kuwait Army to pass through and liberate the abandoned city.

His command was then ordered to sweep a 40 mile stretch between two mine fields to clear enemy bunkers, find hidden mine fields and to help protect the right flank of the Marine forces in Kuwait.

John Saputo In Iraq
Major, at the time, Saputo in Bagdad, Iraq

Later his unit was assigned the mission of breaching a formidable Iraqi mine field that blocked his regiment’s entrance into the Iraqi Republican Guard held town of Al Wafra, Kuwait. He named the task force Task Force “Bud Breech”.

Within two hours his Marines detonated 30,000 pounds of C4 line charge explosives to breach a 250-yard-long hole in the mine field. The 1,300-man Marine battalion poured through and began the liberation of the town of Al Wafra and its burning oil fields. Major Saputo personally walked up and down the blackened and smoldering breech amidst hot, unpredictable, live anti-tank and anti-personnel mines encouraging his Marines and helping them clear the unexploded ordnance.

There is no time off in war and the road to victory in this life-threatening game of chess is ongoing.

During an attack on 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, Headquarters, Major Saputo personally drove his combat vehicle while firing a M-16 from the turret, all while giving his gunner directional orders for firing a machine gun and cannon. Major Saputo commanded effective, suppressive fire on the commandos completely destroying the Iraqi Republican Guards.

For his actions in the mine field and fire fight, Major Saputo was awarded a Combat Action Ribbon and Bronze Star with Combat V for Valor. His is only one of 300 Bronze Stars with Combat V for Valor for heroic achievement awarded for combat action against Iraq during Operation Desert Shield/Storm.

John with Terry Bradshaw, and others, rasing money for Wounded Warriors
John with Terry Bradshaw, and others, rasing money for Wounded Warriors

Major Saputo’s unit was then redirected and became part of a brigade size force during the Kurdish and Shiite rebellions in Iraq.

President Bush then ordered Major Saputo’s unit to Bangladesh providing humanitarian and disaster relief to the victims of the destructive cyclone and 20-foot tidal wave that ravaged the country and killed over 125,000 people. There his unit spent time providing sustenance and medical support, saving an estimated 10,000 lives by delivering plasma and food to survivors of the devastation and spreading cholera epidemic. Upon returning from Southwest Asia, Major Saputo was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was awarded a Humanitarian Relief Medal for his actions in Bangladesh.

Now a Colonel, he was called back to action after the tragedy of 9/11 to U.S. Central Command as Chief of Current Operations working for General Tommy Franks. Colonel Saputo deployed to U.S. Central Command’s (CENTCOM) forward operating base in Qatar, and later Bagdad, where he served 30 periods of reserve duty from 2003-2004 during Operation Enduring Freedom.

There the Colonel was assigned duties patrolling sectors of Baghdad while studying warfare tactics employed by the enemy against Coalition Forces. This was a recurring dangerous assignment never knowing where the next sniper or Improvised Explosive Device (IED) may reside.

His reports and photos were widely circulated and utilized at CENTCOM and disseminated to the Department of Defense, Congress and the President, by General Franks. Colonel Saputo’s contributions led to a Defense Meritorious Service Medal for Actions from General Franks. General Franks comments, “He (John) exemplifies the true Citizen Warrior who has ‘laid down his plow and picked up his sword’ to help his active duty Marines.”

Duties as Morning Briefer to the Deputy Commander in Chief in Qatar came and he was regularly Senior Night Watch Officer at CENTCOM Headquarters while in Qatar. His serviced earned him a 3rd National Defense Medal for duty during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Upon returning to the states John continued to focus on his business, something he does quite well. Success continued to follow him.

No stranger to hands-on activities John and the team participate in “Beach Cleanup” alternating yearly between Sarasota and Manatee
No stranger to hands-on activities John and the team participate in “Beach Cleanup” alternating yearly between Sarasota and Manatee

In 2015, Gold Coast Eagle was the recipient of the Wholesaler of the Year award, earning a perfect score of 1,000 out of 1,000 for its implementation of key business processes and initiatives to consistently deliver exceptional results to more than 1,600 retail customers.

Within the ranks of Anheuser-Busch, John and his team at Gold Coast Eagle received the esteemed Ambassadors of Excellence Big Jake Award in 2017. Named after the largest-ever Clydesdale, “Big Jake” is the company’s highest honor and recognizes top-performing wholesalers for their commitment to excellence in all facets of their operation, including facilities and fleet management, sales, marketing and community outreach. Only 23 out of 465 Anheuser-Busch distributors in the United States have ever achieved this distinction.

What is Colonel Saputo up to now?

Never one to rest on his laurels, it’s the semi-recent purchase of 80-year old Dickerson Distributors, now Ohio Eagle Distributing, in Monroe, Ohio. In the 3 years since purchasing the distributorship, Ohio Eagle has constructed new facilities, was crowned the #1 distributor in the Midwest by Anheuser-Busch and named the #1 Corona distributor in the State of Ohio. Ohio, what a gift you received.

John, Denise and the Gold Coast Eagle Team, thank you for everything you do!

THIS BUD’S FOR YOU

GOLD COAST EAGLE DISTRIBUTING
7051 Wireless Court
Sarasota, Florida 34240
(941) 355-7685
www.abwholesaler.com/group06/goldcoasteagle/home

Copyright © 2018 REAL Exclusive Magazine
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