Inspiring Okeechobee: Anita Nunez was born a businesswoman

“Anita Nunez is one of the toughest women I have ever met,” says her daughter Apolonia “Apple” Nunez. “She doesn’t take no for an answer, and shows a tremendous amount of strength.” Anita grew up in Okeechobee, the third of five children in a very poor family. Her father was a truck driver and her childhood was spent partly in Okeechobee and partly in Michigan. Anita’s mother always said she was a hard worker and always had a scheme for making money. Her sister Patty Suarez said she remembers her mom saying that Anita was always driven, even when she was very young, that even when she was under the age of 5, she was trying to run the house. She always had an adult mindset, their mother said.

“Being mediocre has never been enough for Anita,” said Patty, “and she instilled this in me. Once she reaches one goal, she sets another one. Everything I’ve learned came from her and her values. I remember when I was little, I would think I was just going for a ride with my sister, but little did I know, I was learning things every time I spent time with her. If you are willing to listen, she is willing to teach.”

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Anita Nunez’s biggest fan is her new grandson.

When she was in the eighth grade, Anita quit school to help support the family. “She had five jobs at the age of 15 and she never spent money frivolously. She always had a plan, and she was always saving. She still does,” said Apple.

Anita and her husband, David, grew up in the same town, but although they had similar childhoods, didn’t really know each other. He was a star football player — the quarterback. She was a bit of a troublemaker — a dropout. After graduation, David went to the Navy, and it wasn’t until after his discharge that the two got together, but once together, there was no separating them. They have four daughters, Alli — who lives in Texas and is studying psychiatry, Ami — the free spirit, lives in Jupiter and enjoys skateboarding, Airi — who is married and recently gave birth to the first grandchild (a baby boy who Apple says is the new king of the whole family) and Apple who lives here in Okeechobee and works in the family’s construction business.

After their marriage, Anita and David started a sod company. Someone loaned them a truck, trailer and their first load of sod. They paid him back after the job was done. “Mom never forgot that,” Apple said. “It meant so much to her.” It wasn’t long before they had saved enough money to buy their own truck and their own sod and soon they could hire others to put the sod down for them, but Apple said often they went out and did the work themselves. Later they opened the Seminole Design-Building, Inc. construction company and David stills runs that now.

Anita enjoys the design aspect of the business more than the construction end of things. She built the plaza where Cowboys Restaurant is located and Apple said she was so happy when she was designing it. She wanted to fill it up with businesses that would make Okeechobee better. She has always believed if you create beautiful buildings, people will come, explained Apple. She purposely left that big oak tree in the plaza and put a picnic table out there so people could sit there and eat and just enjoy the beauty. Right now she is working with a family to bring another restaurant in to the plaza. It will be totally different from Cowboys, said Apple. Anita enjoys helping people get things started. She is very good at seeing what people are good at and plugging them into it, helping to make it happen for them. Things like that make her happy, said Apple. She has her eye on a couple more locations now for future developments, and she is also a successful real estate agent.

Before Cowboys was in the plaza, Anita had a restaurant there called Hammerheads, and her sister Patty ran it for her. It did well Apple said, but the space was really too big for the restaurant and Anita decided Cowboys would do better there. They did end up back in the restaurant business later, though. The family that owned Parrot Island Grill experienced a tragedy right before Christmas and rather than see all the employees lose their jobs just before the holidays, Anita asked Patty if she would be willing to come run the restaurant just until after Christmas. Patty, who at that time was a district manager for Little Caesar’s Pizza, agreed, and now Patty is a part owner.

Because she had such a rough childhood, Anita tends to be tough. Her favorite saying is, “There’s no time for crying. Let’s get it done and cry afterwards or hit it head on and then have a nice cry. But, although Anita is tough on the outside, she has a tender heart. Apple remembers many times going with her mom to the homes of people whom she barely knew with gifts of food after they lost loved ones. Her mom explained that’s what you were supposed to do. It didn’t matter how well you knew them. Patty said Anita supports a lot of local charities but she is a very firm believer in keeping your giving anonymous. She doesn’t give so people will notice her.

“One time,” said Apple, “we were at Chipotle at the Gardens Mall when she saw a girl cleaning up. She was working really hard and obviously tired and wanting to go home. My mom handed me $200 and told me to go give it to her because she said the girl reminded her of her when she was young. Then my mom left, and I had to go over there by myself and give it to her.” She does stuff like that all the time, laughed Apple and Patty.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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