From trimming trees and building tiki huts to owning and running a restaurant, Josh Taylor has engineered his own path to success
When Josh Taylor ’04 started out, he used the knowledge he gained from his civil engineering degree to build tiki huts.
Today, he uses it as much—albeit less conventionally—to run Cabana Shores Tiki Bar & Grill, a bar and restaurant operating under the palm thatched roof of his largest tiki hut construction to date.
“Everything in life comes down to efficiency,” Josh says.
For that mentality, he thanks his four years in the U.S. Navy and his engineering education.
“Bootcamp just beats into your head organization, and it’s very similar to what engineering school does for you with time efficiency,” he says. “You don’t have to work as an engineer to think like one.”
In July 1999, Josh moved to Brevard County and started a tree service to put himself through college. As the single parent to his then 2-year-old daughter, instead of pursuing a more traditional 9-to-5 engineering position after graduation, Josh opted to take the already successful tree service full time and expand its services.
“When I went to engineering school, I was doing landscaping and tree work, then I got into hydraulics and hydrology, started doing irrigation, then leveling,” Josh says. “I learned water runoff, structures, concrete—the more you learn about civil engineering, you realize how broad it is. It teaches you everything.”
Eventually, Josh added building tiki hut structures to his list of services.
Impressed by his skills, one of Josh’s clients, Ed Mason, asked him to build a tiki hut on his Palm Shores, Florida, property, where he planned to open a hot dog stand.
Josh accepted the opportunity and started drawing up the plans. However, as quickly as the project morphed from small hot dog stand to full-service bar and restaurant, Josh transitioned from solely designer/builder to co-owner/manager.
After he developed the design in AutoCAD and managed a year and a half of permitting, Josh and two friends built the whole restaurant in 89 days, opening April 20, 2010.
“And our menu doesn’t even have a hot dog on it,” he says.
Instead, Cabana Shores offers patrons a wide variety of fresh foods and a choice: clean or dirty?
Whether they opt for clean—dairy-free and prepared with extra-light olive oil—or dirty—prepared with butter—they receive a flavorful meal off the diverse menu that includes everything from burgers and tacos to fish, pasta and prime rib.
“Everybody raves about the food; I think food is No. 1,” Josh says. “But we’ve got a great staff, too.”
Josh personally trains each of the Cabana Shores staff members, recalling and teaching them the skill that he has found invaluable throughout each step of his career: thinking like an engineer.
“It’s all about multitasking,” he says. “If someone asks for a packet of mayo, you don’t just turn around and get a packet—you make a lap through your whole station and come back with your hands full.”
He approaches his marketing strategy with a similar mindset, typically foregoing standard print and TV ads for multifaceted promotions focused on a positive customer experience. The most popular of these is a free drink at 4:20 p.m. every day in honor of the restaurant’s opening date, 4/20.
“We do a cheers, and it’s a social gathering. It says, ‘Hey, thanks for being here,’” Josh says. “At the same time, people are driving home from work around then, and there is no better marketing for a restaurant than a full parking lot.”
Josh makes sure his hands are always full, too, from managing employees and fixing broken equipment to handling the restaurant’s business side and executing multiple renovations and changes throughout the last several years.
“Everything is divided by time—it’s just about getting the most out of it,” Josh says. “You have to look at things from every angle and just keep going.”