Margaritaville Aims to Hang On After Jimmy Buffett’s Death

Jimmy Buffett, who died of cancer on Friday, was many things: a singer, a songwriter and a spokesman for tropical escape.

But beyond crafting music that inspired listeners to grab a cold drink and take it easy, Mr. Buffett was also a businessman who turned his personal brand into a sprawling lifestyle empire that included everything from restaurants and resorts to lines of merchandise such as at-home “frozen concoction makers” and cornhole game sets.

Along with music sales and tours, Margaritaville’s success helped propel Mr. Buffett into the billionaire ranks; in April, Forbes estimated his net worth at $1 billion. Now, Mr. Buffett’s empire, named Margaritaville Enterprises after his signature song, must find ways to sustain its business without its founder.

“On behalf of everyone (who works, visits or lives) in Margaritaville, we mourn the loss of Jimmy, a true national treasure, and express our heartfelt condolences to his family and everyone around the world who loves him,” Margaritaville wrote in a statement posted on its website.

Representatives for the company declined to comment on its business.

In the days after Mr. Buffett’s death, retail and marketing experts said his legacy would continue to lure his fans — known as Parrot Heads, along with their children, called parakeets — and others to his businesses.

“It’s definitely a lifestyle associated with him and his personality and his music that he created,” said Barbara Kahn, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. But, she said, because his business is “bigger than just that, it could definitely live on.”

Mr. Buffett’s original idea for Margaritaville was “to expand the opportunity for as many people to experience the lifestyle immortalized in his iconic song as possible,” according to the statement on the company’s website. The company had $2.2 billion in gross annual revenue last year.

Most of Margaritaville’s revenue comes from licensing and franchising deals with various ventures, often with references to Mr. Buffett’s songs like “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.” The enterprise is linked to more than 100 restaurants, bars, grills and “lodging locations” in places as diverse as Ambergris Caye, Belize, and Pigeon Forge, Tenn., a short drive from the Dollywood Theme Park, named for Dolly Parton.

There is Latitude Margaritaville Watersound in Panama City Beach, Fla., a planned adult community of homes for those age 55 and up, and the Margaritaville Vacation Club by Wyndham on St. Thomas. There are luxury condominiums and a cruise ship, as well as a new podcast, “License to Chill.”

According to Forbes, Mr. Buffett had an estimated 28 percent stake in the company, which is headquartered in Orlando, Fla. Margaritaville also has other investors, including private equity firms. The billionaire investor Warren Buffett — a longtime friend, but not a relative, of the musician — is an investor in Margaritaville through subsidiaries of his company Berkshire Hathaway.

Last year, the company said its partners had invested, or committed to invest, $7.5 billion in its hospitality real estate projects.

More Buffett-related properties are coming, including a restaurant in Boston. A resort recently opened in San Diego, as did a LandShark Bar & Grill in Miramar Beach, Fla. But Margaritaville could risk overextending itself, Ms. Kahn said.

“This is a lifestyle, and it’s a chill, fun island lifestyle,” Ms. Kahn said, adding that if it isn’t managed properly, it “can be something that loses some of its esteem without the founder’s identity.”

The Margaritaville Casino in Biloxi, Miss., closed just two years after opening in 2012, and then sat empty for nine years before being bought last month by another resort company. The last location of Mr. Buffett’s fast-food chain, Cheeseburger in Paradise, closed in Secaucus, N.J., in 2020; Mr. Buffett sold his stake to the restaurant operator Luby’s for $11 million in 2012.

In 2021, Margaritaville Resort Times Square opened in New York to great fanfare. The $370 million property, which features a 32-foot-tall replica of the Statue of Liberty hoisting a margarita glass, is owned by Soho Properties. Soho’s partner, IMCMV Holdings, leased the location and struck a trademark license agreement with Margaritaville Enterprises.

In July, the resort entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in an attempt to stop a foreclosure auction sale after Soho failed to make a debt payment, according to court filings. The hotel was valued between $266 million and $350 million as of May, with revenues expected to exceed $25 million by the end of next year — a sign of the property’s potential despite the pressures of the pandemic, according to the filings.

Soho Properties did not respond to requests for comment.

When reached on Sunday by phone, a worker at the Times Square location said people had been leaving flowers by the towering statue of a glossy blue flip-flop in the lobby as part of a makeshift memorial to Mr. Buffett.

Lauren Hirsch contributed reporting.

Jordyn Holman is a business reporter covering retail for The Times. She previously worked at Bloomberg News, where she covered retail and diversity in corporate America. More about Jordyn Holman

Tiffany Hsu is a tech reporter covering misinformation and disinformation. More about Tiffany Hsu

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