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Sunshine Seafood Cafe officially open for season

By Staff | Dec 23, 2009

The Sunshine Seafood Cafe and Wine Bar has opened earlier than expected for lunch and dinner, seven days a week. And while the faces running the show might be familiar to diners, two staff members – chef Miguel Vasquez and manager Nick Owens – are new additions to the Sunshine staff.

Miguel Vasquez is the kind of chef any restaurant owner dreams about – he’s always loved to cook, originally learned to cook at home in Oxaca, Mexico, learned restaurant cooking by working his way up from dishwasher at The Bubble Room 14 years ago, is creative, inventive and believes the customers’ needs come first.

“I like to create new recipes and enjoy complying with a customer’s special needs, provided we have what’s needed,” he said.

He must be doing a good job.

According to Sunshine Seafood Caf manager Nick Owens, one couple came for dinner every night last week – “ordered salads and shared an entre each night. And another gentleman, a single, ordered the Seafood Gumbo, Snapper Piccata and Key Lime Pie every night for a week. They all told me good-bye, wished me Merry Christmas, and said they’d be back the next time they came down!”

This is Nick’s first year at Sunshine, although he ran R.C. Otter’s for owner Sandy Stilwell Silverglide last year. He arrived from Dallas three years ago to join his longtime friend Russ Boorman, who’s worked for Sandy for 10 years.

This is also the first year that the delightful eatery has opened this early in the season. “So many people – year-round residents, in particular – requested it that we thought, ‘OK, why not open for dinner only and see how it goes?’ It’s gone so well that we opened for lunch on the 18th,” Nick said.

All told, Sunshine Seafood Caf holds about 40 people, using both the inside area and the al fresco seating on the porch.

The inside has Rauschenberg prints on the walls, an open kitchen and tends to feel larger than it really is because of the large mirror on the back wall. Stilwell bought the Caf in 2004 from islanders Sharon and Bruce Brust.

Sunshine Caf has received numerous awards (1st Place in Gulfshore Life Magazine as Best Kept Secret, for example), not only for the fine food and the ambiance, but for its sophisticated wine list.

And Owens is just the person to be in charge of that – a wine expert, he runs “continuing education” classes on various wines and will be updating and expanding the Caf’s wine list all through the season. He recommends the lighter reds with seafood – a Piot Noir or Piot Grigio – but knows that white wines sell better. “Our Steele Chardonnay is probably the strongest wine we carry.”

Sandy and Nick soon plan to have wine tastings during the afternoon lull between lunch and dinner and get some recommendations from customers as well.

The restaurant leans heavily on seafood (it’s in the name, after all), fresh seafood, cooked on their wood grill. “It seems almost as though mahi mahi and snapper were created for wood-grilling,” Nick commented. “They’re the perfect texture.” He interrupts himself to add, “But Miguel’s lamb chops done on the grill are out of this world!”

Although Sandy is very much hands-on in the running of her businesses – evaluating, re-evaluating, watching the expenses, etc. – her philosophy is more toward staying behind-the-scenes. “The restaurant business is not about the owner,” she says. “It’s about the team that the public sees or is in contact with. You can have great food but, if you offer lousy service, people won’t come back. Or, you can offer great service and, if the food doesn’t measure up, people won’t come back. It’s the whole package – the entire team – that makes a restaurant successful.

“The owner is responsible for building the team – largely through word of mouth, if you want to call it that, or recommendations of people he or she respects. I hire a chef, for example, then I trust him; and I’m always impressed with his creations. Oh, sure – sometimes I’ll comment or make a suggestion but, generally, I let them do their thing that’s why I hired them – because they know what they’re doing. And I’m very much in favor of moving employees up from within – helping someone build his or her career. I know my part of the business, but I don’t pretend to be good at everything, so I trust them to come up with wonderful creations.” And to create and keep a good team, Sandy rewards team members for loyalty.

The Sunshine Seafood Cafe and Wine Bar is located at 14900 Captiva Drive and open for lunch and dinner seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

For more information or a reservation, call 472-6200.