E.F. San Juan

The Craftsmen of Alys Beach: E.F. San Juan

E.F. San Juan
Words Hannah Dow Images Kyle Carpenter

Alys Beach has always beckoned designers, architects, artists, and individuals relentlessly pursuing beauty. The craftsmen of E. F. San Juan are no exception. Three generations of a family with singularity of purpose have built a distinctive business and honed an ancient craft of architectural millwork.


Edward F. San Juan, the patriarch and founder of the family business, adopted an uncompromising ideology at a young age. Ed, as he is affectionately known, was compelled toward success, regardless of the task before him. He learned his lifelong trade from his father, the owner of a cabinetry plant. Ed gained not only a skill, but virtues that he would continue to build upon including resourcefulness, pursuit of excellence, integrity, and determination. When his entrepreneurial spirit led him to Panama City, Florida, to operate a fish processing plant, he applied his knowledge from the family trade in using cypress for lobster traps. From there, he expanded into a lumber brokerage and once again found himself in woodworking and millwork. Determined to be successful, he began cultivating a network of mentors that also excelled in their craft—builders, architects, engineers. Growth born of grit and wisdom was inevitable.

Ed always knew he didn’t want to think of a life without his family around him. He’s described by his family as tough and driven, so it was only natural to present his son, Edward, with an offer that could not be refused upon Edward’s college graduation. Having already spent every spring break and summer holiday in the shop and armed with his father’s work ethic, Edward joined the family business. Resilient and indefatigable, father and son regularly worked 90-hour weeks side by side in the shop. The satisfaction of solving the impossible or learning a new method often spurred the two on into the wee hours of the morning.

During their first years together, Ed sought to give Edward responsibility beyond his years. Accomplishments were hard won and deeply satisfying as father mentored son. With a hereditary work ethic, Ed and Edward expanded their operations to a 13-acre plot of land and with a team of equally driven expert craftsmen. As the family grew, so did the business. Ed’s children married, and their spouses came into the business.

These days, Edward’s son, Eddie, is the third and newest generation to join the family business. Like his predecessors, Eddie is driven by the satisfaction of seeing a job well done and has adopted the work ethic modeled for him. A mutual respect is evident among these men as they simultaneously preserve their family legacy and grow the family business. They also maintain their tight family relationships by pushing past hardship. They are not afraid of emotions. Edward begins and ends each work day with a kiss on his father’s cheek. Affection and expression are ingrained in these men and the wood with which they work.

The Business Ed’s approach to business has mirrored his approach to life, and a steadfast set of principles have served him well in both. Money is a tool, necessary to fulfil obligations. Stay with the job and see it through to successful completion. Keep pursuing; always move forward. Don’t be opposed to change. Seek partners, not customers. Be a Golden Rule follower. Don’t forget your humanity. Be the best at whatever you do.

When applied to a business for over forty years, these principles mean the San Juans leave projects with friendships, not just ongoing working relationships. There have even been times where they were the only constant in a project, outlasting architects and builders. These principles have also been the difference between success and failure on more than one occasion.

In October 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall just outside of Panama City. E.F. San Juan’s facility is only a few miles northeast and fell directly in the storm’s path. Entire towns were faced with the enormous task of clearing debris and rebuilding lives, but the men of E. F. San Juan were not left to their own devices when it came to processing the damage to their warehouse and custom millwork facility. Despite widespread damage, an army of supporters arrived on site the day after the storm—further testament to the position of respect these men hold in their community. After preaching and adhering to the Golden Rule for years, their kind and respectful treatment of others was returned to them in spades. Customers showed up on-site with construction equipment to remove the devastation and bring food to all E.F. San Juan’s employees. Other customers helped to rebuild the office and manufacturing facilities. Competitors even offered warehouse space for as long as it was needed. Ed firmly believes that everything happens for a reason; an interruption of business allowed them to create a world-class facility they might not have otherwise had. The same relentless pursuit of excellence the San Juan family passes from one generation to the next proved mightier than a hurricane.

So much about these men is remarkable. Surrounded by family, they are successful and esteemed. They are quite simply exceptional at what they do. When asked, they humbly refer to a basic recipe of hard work, luck, and determination. Almost as if all the beauty they create is perfectly normal, when in fact it is anything but.