Feb. 8 marked a banner day for Sanibel Island’s business community as the SanCap Chamber celebrated three ribbon-cuttings at Sanibel Marina for the long-anticipated reopening of Gramma Dot’s waterfront restaurant, new Adventure in Paradise (AIP) tour operations, and Moke and Cabana Club rentals.
“It was a beautiful, ‘chamber of commerce day’ in more ways than one,” said John Lai, president and CEO of the SanCap Chamber. “Sanibel Marina became a hub of celebration that sunshiny day as we welcomed back one of our favorite dining spots and congratulated an iconic tour operation and a new and needed service.”
Long a part of Sanibel Marina, Gramma Dot’s came under new ownership by Acme Marina Company Jan. 9. Under prior ownership, it had reopened with a food truck for about nine months following Hurricane Ian. The full restaurant did a soft reopening on Dec. 13. It is now fully open 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily with the complete lunch and dinner menu including old favorites like coconut shrimp, grouper sandwiches, and key lime pie.
The marina will fully reopen later this month, most of the restoration having been completed by previous owners Spring and Ron Rosen, said Acme’s Brandt O’Kelley. “Significant improvements will be continuing in 2024 under current ownership, so the property will be fully restored beyond its authentic pre-hurricane state while retaining its same character and charm.”
At Gramma Dot’s, many of the familiar, pre-hurricane staff return to the kitchen and front of house.
“We would all like to acknowledge the fantastic job the Sanibel & Captiva Chamber of Commerce has done revitalizing this community we call home,” said Gramma Dot’s general manager Wes Brent. ”They have gone above and beyond to promote the reopening of the businesses that make this island so special. We are all grateful for the chamber’s efforts in bringing the community back to better than it has ever been, and we look forward to everyone’s return. Welcome home!”
Since 1986, Adventure in Paradise has been running boat tours out of Port Sanibel Marina, just off island. Since then, it opened another base in Fort Myers Beach and now is establishing itself at Sanibel Marina. The expansion grew out of Hurricane Ian, when the Stewart family immediately came to the rescue of islanders and businesses, putting into service their boats that survived the storm at Port Sanibel.
“After Ian, the boats were departing from Port Sanibel Marina and bringing everyone and everything to Sanibel Marina,” said AIP co-founder Evelyn Stewart. “A relationship with Ron Rosen, then owner of Sanibel Marina, and our son Noah Stewart developed. Adventures in Paradise, being a long-time island business, believes that Sanibel Marina is the perfect Sanibel match.”
Deemed “hurricane heroes” by the local community, Noah and brother Josh jumped into service the morning after the storm.
From that point on, they ran their boats seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for three weeks straight. They rescued approximately 1,200 people off the island and transported search and rescue teams including the U.S. Coast Guard, National Guard, Red Cross, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, contractors, workers, city and county officials, FISH of SanCap, and residents authorized to go to the island.
“These two individuals were raised on Sanibel and felt it was their responsibility to do what had to be done with the tools they had to work with,” says their mother. “The sense of ‘this is my community’ was uppermost in the family’s mind.”
AIP was able to run limited nature boat tours following the storm. At Sanibel Marina, it will offer morning, afternoon, and sunset dolphin and wildlife cruises, a shelling beach and lunch cruise to Cabbage Key plus private and holiday cruises.
“The chamber has been very supportive of all the island businesses by keeping everyone informed, setting up a listing of what businesses are open, and fighting to bring dollars in the form of grants to the business community,” said Evelyn, a longtime chamber member and former board member for six years.
Moke and Cabana Club opened pre-Ian in February 2022 and worked on a delivery basis after the storm without a dedicated home base. It now partners with Sanibel Marina for office space, from where it rents electric vehicles known as Mokes, golf carts, beach cabanas and chairs, and electric surfboards.
“Ian was devastating for us personally and for our business,” said co-owner Chelsea Sweiss. “We lost all our rental vehicles and had no local business for quite a while. However, we strive to see the positive in any situation and believe having a location at the Sanibel Marina will benefit visitors and locals. Boaters will have easy access to transportation; our vintage aesthetic adds to the beauty of the marina; and we are eco-friendly with our Mokes being electric and our golf carts being very fuel efficient.”
She credits the city of Sanibel and chamber for the company’s progress since Hurricane Ian.
“John Lai and his team have been incredibly supportive in very concrete ways,” Sweiss says. “John is accessible and has great ideas to help promote our business. He has also helped introduce us to some key people to grow our business. I would highly recommend anyone who has a business on the island, or who is thinking of starting one, to contact the chamber.”
ABOUT SANCAP CHAMBER
SanCap Chamber is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. The Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents, and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. Its website, sanibel-captiva.org, receives over a million visits per year. For more information about the chamber, visit sanibel-captiva.org or contact John Lai, president and CEO, at 239-472-2348 or [email protected].