Former restaurant owner Ann Walter reminisced about the Harbor House Restaurant for a group of Sanibel Historical Village volunteers last week.
The Harbor House started out as Jack’s Place owned by Jack Cole. Known as a character, he had a shooting range in the back. Jack’s Place was built in 1948, making it the first restaurant on the island. It has continued as a restaurant since that time.
The Walters – Bill and Anne – purchased it in 1981, almost on a whim. Neither Bill nor Anne had any restaurant experience at all. But they made it work.
The Harbor House received national praise from the New York Times, National Observer, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, and many more. Bill and Anne always gave everything their personal attention; everything was always fresh and made from scratch.
Walter and her husband worked on the restaurant floor almost every night of the week. “People loved the fact that the owners were in the dining room. They were disappointed if we weren’t there,” she said.
The restaurant become famous for its key lime pies – made from fruit trees behind the restaurant – which were topped with meringue, making them unique. “We went through 10 big pies a day, more in season,” Walter said.
“I think Historical Village volunteers loved hearing stories about the early restaurants on the island,” said Executive Director Emilie Alfino. “And of course, Anne is absolutely charming. Everyone learned a lot.”
The Walters sold the Harbor House in 1999 and retired. The restaurant became Dolce Vita and is now Il Cielo. Bill passed away in 2014, and Anne keeps busy in a number of island organizations.
The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Beginning May 1, it will go to summer hours, which are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The village is located at 950 Dunlop Road (next to BIG ARTS). Admission is $10 for adults over 18; those under 18 and members are free. Docent-guided tours are available at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at no extra charge, based upon docent availability. There is handicap access at the village. For information, call 472-4648 during business hours or visit www.sanibelmuseum.org.