Robert de Varona was born in Cuba in 1942 into a politically active family. After leaving Cuba at the age of 17 in 1960, he answered a call to join an operation to overthrow Fidel Castro. When the Bay of Pigs invasion failed, he was captured and imprisoned along with his father for nearly two years in Cuba.
Stripped of their Cuban citizenship, Varona and his fellow captives were released to the United States in 1962, given $100 and a set of clothes and sent off to seek their fortune. Many of those freedom fighters have made outstanding contributions to American business and culture.
Mr. de Varona opened his first airport concession, the first minority-owned airport concession in the nation, in 1972 at Stapleton International Airport in Denver, Colorado. In addition, Mr. de Varona has had extensive airport experience with concessions in Dallas/Ft. Worth, St. Louis, Orlando International Airport and Pensacola Regional Airport. He has operated the gift and news concessions at Pensacola Regional Airport since 1990 and Varona’s food and beverage concessions since 1995.
Robert has served on the boards of several local organizations, including Pensacola Symphony, Five Flags Rotary and Pensacola Junior College Foundation. In June 2007 he was named a Paul Harris Fellow by Five Flags Rotary, one of the highest awards bestowed by Rotary Clubs. He was a knight of the Court of De Luna 2006 in the Fiesta of Five Flags celebration.
In 2004 Varona Enterprises was nominated for a philanthropy award by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Mr. de Varona has twice been nominated for the Ethics in Business Award by the Combined Rotary Clubs of Pensacola.
Mr. de Varona has been an active supporter of many local not-for-profit organizations, including Tri Gulf Coast, Santa Rosa Island Triathlon, the Humane Society of Pensacola, Artel Gallery, Leaning Post Ranch, Pensacola Symphony, Pensacola Opera, Ronald McDonald House, WUWF Public Radio and Covenant Hospice.
He is an avid triathlete, having competed in many local and regional triathlons, and he also enjoys golf. He and his wife, Eloise, have four children and six grandchildren.