MIAMI — Of all the calls Neil Goodman received, this had to be the strangest. A Saudi sheik staying at the Jockey Club in North Miami, where Goodman was a valet parker and occasional chauffeur in the 1970s and '80s, wanted two sheep for sacrificial purposes.
'I said, `I'll try, but no promises,' ' Goodman said. ``I didn't know how to get them. You can't call Pizza Hut for that.'
Needless to say, the request went unfulfilled — a rarity for Goodman, who has built a 130-car limo fleet from the ground up by emphasizing personalized, detail-oriented service. His company, Aventura Worldwide Transportation Services, based near Ives Dairy Road west of Interstate 95, took in $17 million in revenue last year, Goodman said.
The company's meteoric growth — starting with a couple of leased Lincoln Town Cars in 1992 — recently garnered national recognition: It was named best limousine and transportation company in America for 2007-08 by Limousine and Chauffeured Transportation Magazine, a trade publication.
Boosted by the resurgence of South Beach and the incorporation and redevelopment of Aventura and Sunny Isles Beach, the luxury service is now strong enough that Goodman has handed over control of day-to-day operations to his son, Scott Tinkler. The company, which deals mostly with corporate executives from out of town, has turned into one of the most successful ventures in Northeast Miami-Dade, Tinkler said.
Goodman was born in Newark, N.J., in 1947. He sold insurance for a living. When his first wife, a flight attendant, was transferred, he followed along to South Florida. In 1975 he started as a valet parker at the Jockey Club, 11111 Biscayne Blvd. Sometimes he was asked to drive clients to the airport. Other times, he took them out to restaurants, sitting in his car for hours. He used the time to think about his life and his future.
Then the Turnberry Isle Resort opened in the late '70s. Goodman secured the contract for valet parking. In 1988, he moved from North Miami to Aventura, which at that point was still unincorporated. 'I just saw the potential. I saw the upscale people that were living here, I saw the cleanliness of the city,' Goodman said. ``I knew it was just a matter of time.'
He delved into chauffeuring more seriously when a disco opened at the Turnberry resort. Clubgoers came from all over the country, demanding glamorous rides to and from the airport. At the same time, South Beach's resurgence meant a spike in high-end customers.
In 1991, Turnberry Isle asked Goodman to manage its limousine service. He leased a few used Town Cars, got a $50,000 loan, and the company was born. It made $1 million that first year, he said. Today, they keep their impressive fleet — all black with wide chrome rims polished to a shine — in a factory-like garage at the Ives Dairy Road I-95 Business Center.
The indisputable star is a 13-foot-long black Hummer limo, with three flat-screen TVs, three bars loaded with champagne glasses, elongated couches, mirrors, and color-changing LEDs. But there are others, too. The reliable Lincoln Town Car, still the most popular ride, and a plethora of SUVs, which are quickly becoming favorites with the corporate crowd: Escalades, Navigators, Yukons, Denalis and Suburbans.
In one corner sit the minibuses and converted vans; in another, the sleek Mercedes S-series cars. A single white limo, almost an aberration among the black exteriors and polarized windows, is used for special requests only.
Corporate clients get jetted from the Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports to hotels and convention centers on Brickell Avenue or in Miami Beach. At night, they head out to events at the AmericanAirlines Arena, or grab some dinner and drinks on South Beach.
And yes, some clients are celebrities — basketball players and actors and actresses — but no names can be revealed, Tinkler said. “Part of the experience is the confidentiality,' he said.
Tinkler, now vice president and general manager, came on board in 2005 after more than a decade as equipment manager for the Florida Panthers. A lockout had put an end to the team's season. In his office, he keeps a bronze statue of a panther that he got from team owner Wayne Huizenga after the Panthers won the Eastern Conference championship in 1995-96. He hasn't forgotten his roots: he uses sports analogies constantly. 'We're not the only show in town, and if we don't do it right, somebody else will do it,' Tinkler said. ``We have the burden of leadership.'
Goodman, who's slowly letting go of his legacy, now gets to take a step back and focus on the memories — like one of his first driving jobs, in 1977, when Billy Joel came to Miami for three concerts at the Gusman Center. Goodman spent three days with him, hanging around backstage and at Joel's penthouse at the Omni. 'That's when I knew I loved the business,' Goodman said.
Source: Miami Herald