The three Frisbie brothers, Dave, Rick and Rob, began their real estate career while still at Harvard University. Rather than pay rent, the boys asked their father to help with the mortgage to buy a building in nearby Sommerville, Mass., and rent it out to other college students—an investment they thought made sense. To say the rest is history is an understatement. The successful family business they have built over the last several decades called Frisbie Group now includes two generations of Frisbies: “Gen 1” and “Gen 2,” as they affectionately refer to themselves. The dynamic family is making bold moves in Palm Beach, answering a need in the marketplace while still paying close attention to Palm Beach’s rich history, iconic heritage and spectacular architecture. As a family, both generations care deeply about Palm Beach as a community and are implementing buildings that reflect not only that concern but meeting the demands of the future. I recently sat down with both generations to talk about real estate in Palm Beach, their family business and what the future holds for all of them.
Robert Frisbie Jr., Philip Trapani III, Frances Frisbie, Michaela Frisbie Facchinei, Richard Frisbie, Katie Frisbie Crowell, Ashley B.C. Frisbie and Cody Crowell
JC: So tell me how this business all began?
DF: Right, so it all got started because, instead of paying rent off campus, we decided to go to our dad to see if he wanted to help us to finance a multifamily building. This way he wouldn’t have to pay for our room and board. Dad helped us with securing the mortgage and we lived in one-third of the building while we rented the other two-thirds out to students, which made enough for us to pay the mortgage, and we lived for free. At that time, Rob was an undergraduate, and Rick was in law school, and I was planning for business school. It all worked out very well for all of us. Rob was studying architectural history and environmental sciences, and was interested in making the world a better place. So, that combination and our collaboration of ideas helped us cover all the bases, and over time, these combined skills have been exactly what we needed as we have continued investing together our entire lives.
An Indian Road Bermuda-style home with 220 feet of direct Intracoastal frontage, as well as a dock and boat lift
JC: You never thought the business would grow like this and you would have another generation and your wife, Suzanne, joining you?
DF: No, it grew organically and the business grew a little bit bigger as opportunities presented themselves. For example, Kim, Robert’s wife, has her master’s in ornamental horticulture and an interest in native species with a keen awareness of environmental consideration, and Suzanne has a background in investment banking with valuation skills from the brokerage business, which was instrumental in showing us which areas were undervalued and underutilized. I had come down to Palm Beach County thinking it would have significant growth. I studied the entire county and determined in the late ’80s it was underserved. I presented it to my brothers; we acquired a critical mass on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach. We eventually sold our investments and saw new, exciting opportunities in Palm Beach.
A series of waterfront Frisbie Group homes on the North End Intracoastal
JC: Were you called the Frisbie Group then?
DF: No, we really didn’t have a company name when we came to Palm Beach. We simply bought properties and named them after the streets. Frisbie Group was named after Gen 2 showed up, which was about 2015.
JC: Who makes up the Gen 2 group?
RFJr: Gen 2 is made up of my sisters, Katie and Franny; my wife, Ashley; my brother-in-law, Cody; my brother Rick; and Dave’s daughter, Michaela. Suzanne’s nephew Philip is currently interning. We all spent so much time together as a family in the summers and on vacations, and we began to realize that the things that made us happy were being together, being in locations we really loved, and working on projects that were meaningful. Eventually, we left our individual career paths and made big life decisions to work together.
A sunset view of an Indian Road Bermuda-style home where one can admire the megayachts coming in and out of the Palm Beach Intracoastal.
JC: How does the family business work, because for many family businesses, the formula just isn’t a successful one...
RFJr: Everyone knows no family is perfect, but we decided it was worth taking the risk, and if anyone could make this work, we knew we could do it together.
JC: How many family members are involved?
Suzanne and Dave Frisbie
JC: Why do you think Palm Beach real estate is so hot
at the moment?
RFJr: It probably goes back to the concept of quality of life. Palm Beach is beautiful, safe and secure, and you wrap all that up with the great climate and it’s next to an airport, well, it’s pretty easy. Plus, it’s a great community with wonderful schools and rich history we care about.
SF: We are not the only investors here trying to do the right thing for the community. In the last two years, The Royal Poinciana Plaza has become a real hot spot and they’ve done an amazing job. That’s a good example of doing something good for the community, and then you have The Bradley Park Hotel and The Breakers Palm Beach. All are extremely capable practitioners in this market.
AF: Those are just a few of the things that have happened over the past two years. In that short time, all of this energy has created an uplifted version of maybe what people thought about Palm Beach. You see strollers are everywhere, which is really exciting, and it will only get better and better.
SF: I want to add to that. In terms of building, people might complain about getting something approved, but the end result of having an architectural commission in town is worth it. When you look around Palm Beach and see how beautiful it is, and you go to other places which may not have the same patina or elevated aesthetic, it’s a pretty spectacular thing.