Jimmy Buffett’s 1977 song “Margaritaville” only managed to hold the #1 spot on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart for a single week and peaked at #8 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. It was never nominated for any of the music industry awards for that year.
While it may never have been the most profound or provocative pop music offering, “Margaritaville” wound up launching a multi-billion-dollar business empire that is coming off a COVID-19 pandemic-induced pause with two new high-profile projects.
What Happened: Buffett’s Margaritaville Enterprises LLC operates a wide network of restaurants, casinos, hotels, real estate holdings, merchandising and media platforms across North and South America and the Caribbean.
The privately-owned company does not release revenue figures, but in a Bloomberg interview CEO John Cohlan stated it was generating $1.5 billion in annual sales prior to the COVID-19 health crisis.
As the U.S. moves into a post-pandemic environment, Margaritaville Enterprises is resuming work on two high-profile projects that were stopped when the crisis began: a new Margaritaville restaurant in Boston’s popular Faneuil Hall (the chain’s first New England location) and a $370 million, 32-story Margaritaville Resort Times Square in the heart of New York City.
“On the island of Manhattan, as we’re coming out of the pandemic, this is a lucky charm that says it’s time to go back out and have fun again,” Buffett told Bloomberg. “When you can’t go out and soothe the savage beast, you got problems.”
How It Happened: Buffett had no formal education training in business. He graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1969 and briefly worked out of Billboard’s Nashville bureau before pursuing a full-time music career in the early 1970s. And Buffett freely admitted “Margaritaville” was a dashed-off tune created in a Mexican restaurant in 1976.
“It was written in five minutes about a hot day in Austin, Texas, with a margarita and a beautiful woman,” he recalled in a 2017 interview with the Austin Chronicle. “I finished it in Key West.”
And while the song became Buffett’s best-known work, it was never intended to put him into the corporate world. That came via a 1983 lawsuit that Buffett filed when the Chi-Chi’s restaurant chain tried to trademark the name “Margaritaville” for a drink.
Chi-Chi’s sought to denigrate Buffett’s claim that the “Margaritaville” name was synonymous with him by claiming, “If a nexus exists between songs and restaurants, Opposer could claim an equal nexus between songs and the tangible items of the universe.”
Buffett won the lawsuit and brought on Cohlan as a business partner to brand “Margaritaville” on as many projects as possible. As a result, Buffett generated $50 million in pre-pandemic 2019, placing him at #59 on Forbes’ Celebrity 100 list.
And for the benefit of those who either weren’t around in 1977 to hear “Margaritaville” when it first got airplay and those who have no idea what we’ve been talking about, this is the song in question:
(Photo of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville casino in Las Vegas by Catface3 / Flickr Creative Commons.)
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