This year, the co-owner of Rumors Bar and Shawn and Nick’s Courtyard Café, Nick Berry, celebrates his 11th anniversary on the Planning and Zoning Board of the City of Wilton Manors. He has also served for three years on the city’s Economic Development Task Force, and never missed a single meeting on either.
“The greatness of Wilton Manors depends, in part, on solid partnerships with people like Nick Berry,” said Julie Carson, Wilton Manors City Commissioner. “Nick consistently invests time, money, and other resources into the bank of our City's future. He is a vital link to our City's success.”
This year also celebrates another anniversary for Nick Berry, one not customarily known to local residents and the LGBT business community. It represents the 30th anniversary of his arrest on federal charges for drug smuggling, accused in United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida of conspiracy to import marijuana and other related crimes.
This past week, Berry sat down with SFGN and met with city commissioners to come out about his past.
“Drug running was commonplace for many high rolling young men in South Florida in the 1980s. It was all about boats, planes, and automobiles,” said Berry, now 58. “And regrettably, I made it my existence. I was sucked into the lure of fast money and a high life, with my own fleet of boats and planes running drugs on the high seas.”
But meteors burn out, and in 1986 Berry’s lifestyle ran into the law. He was arrested, charged, prosecuted, and convicted. He was sentenced to, and served, five years in federal prison.
“I came out of jail a new man,” said Berry today. “While in custody, I divorced a wife I should not have married, and renounced the lifestyle I should not have lived.”
A drug abuser back then, today Berry’s businesses, including managing real estate properties, employ over 60 people in the City of Wilton Manors. He contributes to and partners with a host of charities, including Hospice; The Smart Ride; the city’s Historical Society; Poverello; Broward House; and the Florida AIDS Walk.
Berry and his companies have also sponsored Women in Network, the Fort Lauderdale High School Band, SunServe, Stonewall and The Pride Center at Equality Park.
The ‘tough guy’ who once flew drug-filled planes to six countries in one day now underwrites 12 charitable projects in one month, from the likes of the City of Wilton Manors Police Bike Safety Program to the Special Olympics, the Pet Project and Veteran’s Day events.
“I enjoy giving back. It has helped make me who I am today, I would never have had the success I have without the special community we have cultivated here in the Manors,” Berry said. “We have marvelous people, caring businesses, great volunteers, and a wealth of resources that make us special. I want to keep it that way, and make it even better.”
Born and raised in a rough part of Detroit, Michigan, Berry recalls a childhood where his mother and an abusive stepfather reared him. “I have never met my biological father,” he said. But he has met a new life partner since his tenure in prison, and he is ever so grateful for his husband, Joe Bush, 48.
“It’s like the Brady Bunch Boy met the hoodlum,” Berry joked. “Joe is the one who has calmed me down on one hand and pushes me on the other. He helps drive my motivations.”
That path, Berry suspects, will help him land one day on the city commission in the city that he works in and loves, Wilton Manors. “My goal one day, in all honesty, is to be a successful and productive Wilton Manors city commissioner, and unlike other politicians, I intend to be open and accessible tomorrow and honest about my past today. I think my character has been established by my deeds and determination in doing better.”
Has he ever.
When released from prison in 1990, Berry took a job as a landscaper in Pompano Beach, for $8.50 an hour. Within a year though, he moved on to become a Telcom salesperson that began generating a six-figure income.
“It was there that I met Terry Syrcle, and together we acquired the Courtyard Villa, a boutique hotel on the ocean in Lauderdale by the Sea.” The investment proved profitable, and planted the seeds for Berry’s civic commitments. He served as the president of the Lauderdale by the Sea Chamber of Commerce.
Meanwhile, the business duo of Berry and Terry continued to purchase and manage other real estate properties, which, Berry acknowledges, “soared in value. We made honest money, paid taxes, and amassed legitimate properties.” This time around he bought by the acre and not the ounce.
Nick Berry has remarkably transformed his life. A kid who grew up on dangerous streets in Detroit, a Navy sailor by 1975, a federal prisoner in 1990, and a real estate magnate by 2005.
Lots of changes, but one constant remains: “I feel lucky that I was able to turn my life around. I have overcome obstacles that everyone has and used them to forge an inner strength. We all have road blocks in life,” Berry said. “It’s how much drive you have for success that counts.”
Be ready. It may become his campaign slogan for city commission in the future.