L ight house Cafe

RSWLiving - - THE ARTS -

Mike and Dan Bill­heimer

Af­ter three decades at the helm of iconic Light­house Cafe on the east end of Sani­bel, Mike Bill­heimer is pay­ing it for­ward by pass­ing the torch to his nephew, Dan Bill­heimer.

In 1988, Mike bought the restau­rant from a den­tist who orig­i­nally pur­chased it for his chil­dren. But when they got older, the busi­ness didn’t in­ter­est them. “I was at the right place at the right time,” notes Mike. “He had a suc­cess­ful restau­rant and he held the pa­pers so I could buy it.”

The restau­ra­teur dreamed of of­fer­ing that same golden op­por­tu­nity of own­er­ship to an­other en­tre­pre­neur. Mike’s nephew Dan, a chef, was work­ing in cov­eted kitchens in Colorado and New York City. Al­though on track for what he calls “big­ger jobs,” Dan also says he was “hold­ing out for some­thing else.”

Then his un­cle called—with that golden op­por­tu­nity. Dan ex­plains, “I was driv­ing and had to pull over be­cause I was freak­ing out.” He al­ways thought restau­rant own­er­ship was a long shot—“not to men­tion Light­house Cafe!” It had been his first restau­rant job. He won­dered, “Am I wor­thy? I was just an av­er­age guy and needed some help if given a shot.”

As Dan buys out his un­cle over time, he prom­ises not to al­ter the leg­endary break­fast and lunch of­fer­ings. “I can’t tell you how many of our long­time pa­trons I’ve sat down with who jok­ingly warn me that if I change any­thing, they’ll straighten me out like a piece of wire,” he says, laugh­ing. “Don’t worry; I won’t.” How­ever, new el­e­ments that Dan is bring­ing to the ta­ble in­clude el­e­vat­ing the din­ner pro­gram: “My back­ground is in com­pos­ing dishes that are def­i­nitely more en­trée-ori­ented.”

Mike has more time to spend with his seven grand­chil­dren, but has com­mit­ted to be­ing a life­long con­sul­tant—main­tain­ing the hun­dreds of re­la­tion­ships he’s formed. And reg­u­lars and long­time em­ploy­ees have taken quite a lik­ing to Dan, even calling him “Mini Mike.”

Dan adds, “I’m hav­ing so much fun. The syn­ergy with Mike is great. He’s the cool un­cle I get to work with. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”

Fla­vors to Sa­vor: French Toast. Fea­tures thick, dense slices of French bread dipped in a cus­tard bat­ter, then grilled. It’s driz­zled with real Ver­mont maple syrup and sprin­kled with pow­dered sugar.

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