Dads decide kids come first
By PENNY FLETCHER
RIVERVIEW — Eric Trout and Michael O’Brien have two key things in common: they put their families first and they love to be involved with community events, especially those involving children.
That’s why they make good business partners.
When interviewed last week at Cici’s Pizza in Summerfield Square, it was evident that neither had ended up in the field for which they had trained and received their degrees.
The reason is that both are putting their families first, which made them both gravitate to family-friendly local businesses rather than travel for other lines of work.
The son of long-time fish farmers Irv and Linda Trout who owned the Florida Fish Co-op that closed in 1995, Eric decided to open Cici’s rather than move to an area where he could use his training as a chemist with a PhD in molecular biophysics.
“I’m just a local boy,” Eric explained. “I was on the wrestling team at Brandon High School and I’ve been in the Brandon-Riverview area since we moved here from Pennsylvania when I was 10.”
But there isn’t much work in this area for a molecular biophysicist, Eric joked. “And I didn’t want to travel because of my kids.”
Wanting to stay near his two children, Adam, 10 and Alexa, 13, who spend weekends and vacation time with him following a divorce, Eric decided to find something he could do nearby; so he trained and opened a Cici’s Pizza franchise.
“I love it,” he said as about 50 kids in green Staci’s Learning Station shirts walked through the door. “We host all kinds of events for groups from churches and civic organizations, as well as field trips for child care facilities and people from the Parks and Rec(reation department).”
His business is approached nearly every week to sponsor a team or event, but he can’t take everyone. “We’re sponsoring the East Bay Girl’s Softball Team, the Lady Indians softball team from East Bay High School and the East Bay Buccaneers cheerleading and football teams this year,” he told me. “We donate money to the teams, buy their shirts and hold fundraisers.”
They also hold fundraisers for other nonprofit and civic groups, like one of the more recent ones held for Elmira’s Wildlife Sanctuary in Wimauma, he said. And they sponsor the annual Relay for Life and host events for the Wimauma Church of God Campground during that denomination’s national summer conferen ce.
“I love being part of this community,” Eric said. “If I had followed molecular biophysics, I’d have ended up somewhere in the northeast.”
Michael O’Brien says he doesn’t want to leave the area either.
Another native, Michael graduated from Jesuit High School in Tampa followed by Florida State University. His training in the hospitality industry included running hotels, motels and restaurants.
But he and his wife Jodi and their son Michael wanted to stay right here in Hillsborough County where he grew up.
Michael got into real estate and is now a developer with Coastal Equity, which specializes in building and equipping medical offices and entrepreneurs in all facets of the medical industry.
His most recent venture was Summerfield Square, the 18-acre center just north of the Hess station that occupies the northwest corner of Big Bend Road and U.S. 301.
Like Eric, Michael says family is very important to him. The day of our interview, he was showing his 11-year-old son how to make pizzas.
“He felt like sleeping in today so I didn’t make him go to camp,” Michael said, adding that he often lets his namesake experience workdays with him.
When the original partners in Cici’s left, Michael said he decided to join Eric as a full partner. “The place has been open since April 1, 2008, and it just seemed like a good idea,” he said.
Staci and Steven Bedenbaugh, owners of Staci’s Learning Station child care in Riverview, brought a busload of children to Cici’s for a field trip during our interview.
The daughter of lifelong Riverview residents Joel and Cindy Miltner, Staci also mentioned having deliberately sought out a business that would keep her near home.
It seemed that growing up in Riverview was an experience all the business owners I spoke with that day wanted to pass on to their children.