“John was born in Pensacola, Florida and lived most of his childhood and teenage years in Huntsville and Birmingham, Alabama. He began working at the Birmingham Zoo at the age of 16 being assigned to both the Children’s Zoo and Bird departments.
During his four years at the Birmingham Zoo, John became one of the most experienced Children’s Zoo and Bird keepers and was instrumental in the design and construction phase of the Zoo’s $5.5 million dollar addition called Alabama Wilds. He also honed numerous other skills during this phase of his career including show presentations, large reptile handling, venomous snake handling, TV appearances and conducting outreach programs. Birds of prey training, otter training, wildlife show development, birthday parties and special events were just a few of John’s many other responsibilities.
After attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham where he studied Biology, John was recruited and hired by Reptiland. Reptiland is an AZA accredited facility located in Pennsylvania that specializes in reptiles and in particular native and exotic venomous snakes. While employed for three years at Reptiland, John served as Head Reptile Keeper and was responsible not only for the reptile collection but also for their many daily shows and outreach programs. As a collateral duty, John was responsible for, and traveled with, many of Reptiland’s traveling exhibits that are available for lease to museums and institutions in the United States and Canada.
John was contacted by Jared Baker (Animal Tales) in 2009 and made the decision to leave Reptiland to pursue an opportunity to educate thousands of children and adults through the development of school assembly and other programs with Animal Tales.
In 2015 John moved to Pensacola, Florida to establish the first “satellite” location for Animal Tales. Animal Tales has been so well received in the Southeast that John was offered and accepted the position of Director of the Southeast Region of which he became the owner of in January 2017. He looks forward to advancing the Animal Tales mission throughout the Southeast!”
-Animal Tales Website
What inspired you or led you to your current career/owning your business?
It took a long time. It wasn’t always like that. I got into working with animals because I loved animals. I had tons of pets growing up. When job time came around at 16, a friend offered me a job at a pet store. I immediately just started learning like crazy. And the I had the opportunity to work at a zoo. I was very fortunate in that a friend of mine, his dad was assistant director. I said hey can you get me a job at the zoo? So, got me an interview. I was all excited thinking I was going to be a zookeeper. When I got there though, it was a job in concessions. But, I got the job!
I had got the job and the first day I went in there and I had went in there and reorganized their whole storage area. The manager at the gift shop said “Hey, you’re a really good worker. I want you over here.” I worked my way up to a manager in training very quickly. Through that, I got to know a lot of the keepers and staff members.
When an animal position did open up, even though I was not qualified, I was able to sneak through a door because they knew me and knew I worked hard. They had picked me over people they didn’t know. So I was able to get in the door and I just kept fighting and fighting and working harder. There was a girl I had worked with and she used to hate me. I could never figure out why. Well, finally, my old boss had told me “Well, she didn’t like you because you worked too hard and you made everybody look bad.”
I didn’t go into this for the presenting aspect, I went in for the animals. I hated presenting. I was very nervous. Normally, I was an extrovert, but when you put me in front of a crowd, I got jittery and shaky. Part of being a zookeeper is educating the public. I still remember one of my first presentations to 300 boy scouts. I was just reading my notes, word for word. I would freeze up and my brain wouldn’t be able to process the information and put it out. There was no flow at all. It was just fact after fact, after fact. After doing that for a while and I went to a new zoo program, it got a lot better. They made us do two presentations a day as part of our routine. That’s what really got me into it. It was the repetition and actually doing it.
Once I opened my business, I really started investing my time in how to make the presentations a story, instead of just a bunch of facts.
How long have you lived or worked in Pensacola?
I’m from here originally, but I have been back for 5 years.
Who is the most interesting person/business owner you’ve met here in Pensacola? Who would you like to see nominated as a Face of Pensacola?
There are a lot of people I look up to in Pensacola. One of my biggest helpers in Pensacola is Matt Wright with Fund Rays for coupon books.
What advice would you give a crowd of people? (Or someone starting their own business?)
Work until you can’t work anymore. I was working 12 to 14 hour days everyday for years when I opened Animal Tales, because I did construction- I built houses on the side for income. Work hard today. I’m 34 and already feeling it- its not as easy as it was at 20, but I keep pushing.
What current/former local business makes you the most nostalgic about (or what is most iconic in) Pensacola?
The beach is a staple for me. The Blue Angels pop up here and there, but it’s always the beach.
Where do you see yourself (and your career/business) in 5 or 10 years?
Still putting out more content. We’re looking at doing more of the digital stuff. The reason for that- the blessing in disguise with Covid-19 – is the animals aren’t traveling as much. I am able to reduce my radius to about two hours instead of four. And then I’m able to take the animals into the facility inside and then back out. My profit margins are much higher now because I am not having to send money on gas, food, and hotels. The digital world has opened a new market for me and allows the animals to stay healthier. It’s more beneficial to the animals.
What is your favorite restaurant in Pensacola, and what do you love there? (What is your favorite dish, and where do you get it?)
I’m torn between George’s and McGuire’s. McGuire’s has a huge menu and its never bad. I’ve never been there with a group of people and have them complain on the way out. I’m all about consistency, so if I’m gonna recommend a place, it’s gonna be McGuire’s.
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would it be? And why?
I love traveling. I have a plan for almost every country. Oh gosh… Australia. I have lived in Canada and been to Mexico a few times. I’ve traveled all over the United States. They’re all on my bucket list; South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. I’m a big adventurer.
What is your favorite movie OR what is the first movie you remember seeing in a theater?
My favorite movie just bounces off my head and it’s Gladiator. It’s just stuck in there from being a kid.
What is something on your bucket list?
Everything. Everything I haven’t done. Haha, not everything. Skydiving is something I haven’t done. I haven’t been Bungee jumping either. Of course I want to travel to all the continents as well. I have a huge bucket list. Anything that is unique, different, and safe.
What is your favorite thing or something unique about Pensacola?
The small city feel. I’ve had the fortune of living in big cities: New York, Boston, Atlanta, Toronto. They all ended up having their own little suburbs. Pensacola feels like one of those suburbs. It’s everything you need and comfortable. There’s no craziness; its the perfect amount of stuff. Tons of things to do here. Very exciting place.
Choosing anyone alive and a non-relative: with whom would you love to have lunch? Why? Where in Pensacola would you have lunch?
I have to go with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I would love to just pick his brain. Well, not pick his brain- just talk and have lunch with him. We would eat anywhere he wants.
What is your favorite music/ 3 bands you would like to see (dead or alive)?
I like all music, but I steer towards rock. AC/DC would be amazing, but I’ve unfortunately missed seeing them twice now. Um, I’d also probably like to see Steve Vai.
(Even for friends or family), what is something interesting that most people don’t know about you?
I play guitar almost everyday. I’ve been playing since I was 12. When I was a kid, I played in a garage band. When I was 21, I had a decision to make. I was living in Boston, I had the opportunity to go to Berkeley. I was playing guitar 12 hours a day, but only working 2 hours a day because the job I was working was salary. I had to go in and take care of the exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science. So I’d work from 8 to 10 and come home to play guitar until my fingers bled. I was playing every day, trying to learn Beethoven. My decision was to either do the music thing or the animal thing. The animal stuff felt more right.
What 3 words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word HOME?
Comfortable, relaxing, and happy.
If you were cast into a major motion picture and had your choice of anyone to be your co-star, who would you choose?
Jessica Beal. I would choose my wife, but she’s very introverted. She wouldn’t want to be in a movie.
If you had a full-time staff member that was fully paid for, who would you choose?
Chef, Housekeeper, Driver, Coach, Physical Fitness Trainer, or Nanny?
Who was your childhood hero?
Everyone was a piece to the puzzle; teachers, bosses, and coaches.
What is the biggest obstacle you have faced in owning your own business?
The obstacle of now. Any obstacle I have faced is done and in the past. I don’t really think about them anymore. Moving forward, and always finding new business.
To learn more about Animal Tales and to make a donation, check out their website!
To view their events calendar, click here!
To schedule an event with them, click here!
Be sure to check out what our other nominees have to say!