Step into the office of Albert Miniaci, and you'll discover an entrepreneur with eclectic interests.
Mementos abound: A 1948 Wurlitzer juke-box. Framed writings from Civil War leader Stonewall Jackson and from Revolutionary War General George Washington. Family photos with Pope John Paul II and with the Dalai Lama. Awards from the Boys & Girls Club of Broward County. And perhaps most striking, a replica of a dinosaur's head that Miniaci found in Mongolia on one of his many dinosaur digs.
"I follow the Buddhist philosophy of life," said the 65-year-old native New Yorker, comfortable with the diversity of his treasures: a mandala from Bhutan, a native American dream catcher and photos at the Great Wall in Jerusalem. "For me, that's being a good person, honorable and respectful to other people's beliefs. It means to respect life and all living things."
In four decades in business in Broward County, Miniaci has done the gamut, from selling real estate to pizza, juke-boxes to gourmet coffee. His Paramount Companies has evolved from simple vending machines to pay-phones, ATM cash machines and most recently, into espresso coffee makers.
But Miniaci said one thing remains constant: his family-driven values, especially attention to what he calls "paramount" service. He aims to build new businesses from his existing customer base, adding products and services that appeal to long-time clients.
For his business success and community involvement, Miniaci has been named the 2012 winner of the Sun Sentinel Co.'s Excalibur Award as Small Business Leader, Broward County. The award was presented Thursday evening at the Boca Raton Resort & Club.
It's perhaps fitting that family-driven Miniaci should be honored in the vending business: He grew up with it. His Italian immigrant father Alfred built a vending company in New York City, working long hours away from home. Albert started working at his dad's firm during summers, cleaning floors and figuring he'd become a mechanic to service the vending machines.
After college in Georgia, he ventured into real estate in Fort Lauderdale near the family's retirement home. But when a recession hit, he turned back to vending machines, building a business that last year posted roughly $20 million in sales and operated with 70 employees in South Florida, plus 10 in New Jersey.
It's a tough, competitive niche, supplying restaurant chains like Flanigan's, mom and pop stores, hospitals such as Baptist Health and big corporations including Citrix. The Great Recession stung sales.
"You have to be willing to make investments, stay up with technology and make the right call," he said.
New juke-boxes that play songs from iPhones have proved a winner in recent years at Flanigan's, which splits its juke-box revenues with Paramount, said Jim Flanigan, chief executive of the Fort Lauderdale-based chain of 25 restaurants, a customer of Miniaci's for more than 30 years.
"Albert is a partner," not just a supplier, said Flanigan. "And he's a straight-shooter. If he says he's going to do something, he does it."
Yet unlike many entrepreneurs, Miniaci seeks balance beyond work – with family, community and travel.
"I always promised myself that I would never let my business control my life," he said. "I would control my business."
To find balance, he nurtures a knowledgeable, trusted staff. "I can travel and go away for a few months and know they will handle things. They know what to do," Miniaci said.
He also devotes time to community service, inspired partly by his mother Rose, a patron of the arts who has donated funds for a theater at Nova Southeastern University named for Rose and Alfred Miniaci.
At the Community Foundation of Broward, where Albert served six years on the board, Chief Executive Linda Carter values Miniaci as reflective and engaged – open to hearing all sides, to seeing things from new perspectives and to making good choices.
"You can count on him. He doesn't just throw out promises," said Carter. "Also, he's a great connector, who brings people together."