L ight house Cafe
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.