Popular Lighthouse Cafe Adding Outdoor Seating

by SC Reporter Reanna Haase

The Lighthouse Café, a second-generation family-owned restaurant on the east end of Sanibel, has been approved to add outdoor seating to its historic dining scene.

The historic Lighthouse Cafe was granted outdoor seating by Planning Commission.
SC photo by Dorothy Wallace

The café dates back to the mid 1950s, however, it became the breakfast ‘joint’ we know it as today when Michael Billheimer took over in 1987. The Billheimer family has always been very prevalent on the island and even been a part of operating some other very well-known businesses still around today, such as the High Tide cottages, now known as the High Tide condominiums, and The Nutmeg House, now The Sandbar restaurant.

Michael Billheimer’s nephew and current owner of the Lighthouse Café, Dan Billheimer, grew up in Northeast Colorado but would visit the island during his childhood and even worked as a dishwasher at the café as his first job as a teenager. He made the official move to Sanibel four years ago to continue the legacy his uncle built up. Billheimer said it meant a lot to him to be able to have the restaurant passed onto him from his uncle.

“It means everything (to keep the restaurant in the family). If you look at it from my personal view, you see just how special and unique the cafe is. There is only one… So, for me to be able to be a part of that is special and for me to be able to…live this crazy little barrier island dream that I never thought I would be able to do,” Billheimer said.

He recently went to the Sanibel Planning Commission with an application for outdoor seating. During the meeting on May 10, Sanibel resident Bill Olinger shared his positive thoughts on the café. He said it is a tradition spanning generations and he believed the additional seating would be beneficial to the customers. Following all the testimonies, the application to add 14 outdoor seats was approved by the commission.

Billheimer said he started to seek out this addition to make everyone’s dining experience more comfortable after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The main reason for me going after outdoor seating was to satisfy the demands of all my various customers,” Billheimer said. “You have people who are (a little more) COVID sensitive, or they can’t just be around a lot of people…so you have to have an answer for that, right? And outdoor seating is that answer.”

This addition does not only accommodate for the health concerns of customers, but Billheimer also wanted people to be able to enjoy the scenery of the island.

“Outdoor seating is huge. The things that make it tough to get it on Sanibel are also why we love Sanibel so much. The city makes you jump through a lot of hoops because it is so nature forward…I love Sanibel and I love the nature aspect of Sanibel and if that’s what I have to do, then that’s what I’m going to do,” Billheimer said.

He went through the outdoor dining application process because he wanted to find new ways to continue improving the solid structure already laid down by his uncle. In addition to an outdoor dining experience, there will be new items added to the menu, food quality will continue to go up and the restaurant will work to maintain customer service.

The Lighthouse Café, located at 362 Periwinkle Way, is among the last few businesses before reaching the iconic lighthouse on the east end of the island. Billheimer said it is a unique experience being in the original structure of the Sea Horse Shops built in 1957. He wants to maintain the ambiance associated with the location, while continuing to upgrade everyone’s dining experience.

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