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Lighthouse Cafe joins a dozen other businesses reopening on Sanibel in April

Posted at 10:50 PM, Apr 25, 2024

SANIBEL, Fla. — The spirit of resilience continues to flourish on Sanibel Island as local businesses recover from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Ian. Among those is the Lighthouse Café, which celebrated its grand reopening on Thursday after having relocated further west on Periwinkle Way.

FOX 4 previously reported from the site of the new Wickies Restaurant, which now occupies the original site of the Lighthouse Café.

he iconic eatery has been on the island for decades, originally opening its doors 38 years ago, only to be forced to move following the hurricane's destruction.

Daniel Bilheimer, the owner of Lighthouse Café, shared his journey with your Sanibel Community Correspondent Anvar Ruziev.

Bilheimer looks back on his early days washing dishes as a teenager to steering the café through its most challenging period.

"You know, I started washing dishes at 15," Bilheimer reminisced, when asked about his connection to the café.

Relocating is what so many businesses have done, including the Lighthouse Café.

"The goal right now is to survive, I don't think we're going to have a problem once we get to November," Bilheimer said.

He remains hopeful the return of more condos and resorts over the summer will bolster business, filling the newly expanded seating capacity at the café.

The Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce says the Lighthouse Café is one of 12 businesses to have reopened on the island in April alone, with a total of 92 businesses bouncing back since Hurricane Ian.

Joe Lavigne, owner of the Tarpon Tale Inn, which also saw its reopening last June, says things are looking up.

"As more people come back to Sanibel, they'll realize that they thought it might take 3-5 years for us to get back open and recover. I think they'll find at this point Sanibel is very well recovered," he said.

His inn currently enjoys an average occupancy of 80%, reflecting the return of visitors.

Despite the looming hurricane season, Bilheimer remains optimistic with a forward-looking mindset.

"Yes, Ian happened, but you can't let fear rule you and I'm just going to operate and go forward like that's not going to happen again," he stated.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Lighthouse Café is set for Tuesday at 3 p.m., marking another significant step in Sanibel’s path to recovery.