Buzz’s Lighthouse Restaurant reopened Tuesday after being damaged by Hurricane Ian, but the adjacent Lighthouse Inn didn’t survive the historical storm.
The iconic North Naples properties just across Gulf Shore Drive from Vanderbilt Beach were heavily battered by the hurricane two months ago. The vintage motel just completed 45 seasons, but it won’t see another one.
Hurricane Ian made the decision for co-owner Judy Dugan to finally retire from the hotel business. It was just cost-prohibitive to rebuild the structures that originally were built in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.
“I think she’s felt the weight off her shoulders with trying to keep it going for so long,” said Judy’s son, Kevin Dugan, who co-owns the adjacent waterfront properties with his mother and brother, Darren. “We are looking at tearing the motel down. It’s the end of an era here at Vanderbilt.”
Best described as vintage Old Florida, the Lighthouse Inn launched years before high-rise hotels and condominiums dotted the Gulf shoreline. Henry “Buzz” Dugan and his wife, Judy, bought the small waterfront motel in 1978 with a business partner from the Jersey Shore and they built Buzz’s Lighthouse Restaurant next door to it two years later.
“Unfortunately, one business wasn’t able to (reopen). The other one was,” Kevin Dugan said.
One of the longest-operating restaurants in the area, Buzz’s has been a Naples classic since opening in March 1980. For the time being, the waterfront venue is one of the only restaurants operating now near that corner of Gulf Shore Drive and Vanderbilt Beach Road. Beach Box Cafe and DaRuMa were recently demolished and The Turtle Club, Baleen and the dining options at Ritz-Carlton, Naples are still out of commission from hurricane damage to their respective resorts.
A family run business for more than 40 years, Buzz’s just started its 18th season of being operated by the Dugan brothers. The hurricane just set the restaurant back a bit.
“We had a couple of deck boards down on the dock but literally there was almost no structural damage at all,” Dugan said. “We’ve been a part of Vanderbilt Beach for a long time and we want to continue to be, and be here for the locals and the neighbors. We’re just glad that we weathered the storm so well.”
Of course, the restaurant did have more than a few feet of storm surge wash through it. While the structure survived, the new kitchen did not. The restaurant crew had just completed a major renovation of its small kitchen and installed all new equipment during a seasonal hiatus.
“We redid everything. We were open for eight days until the hurricane hit,” said Jamie Beale, Buzz’s general manager. “It was just heartbreaking. Every piece of equipment we lost; probably $100,000 in kitchen equipment.”
But Buzz’s is back and ready to serve guests a slice of Old Florida. “My brother Darren and I are really happy how the place turned out. My mother is really happy, too,” Kevin Dugan said.
The casual, laid-back restaurant on Vanderbilt Lagoon remains famous for its Grouper Reuben sandwich. Grouper is available blackened, broiled or fried as an entrée or a sandwich. “The grouper is the number one item,” Beale said. “We probably go through 20,000 pounds of grouper in the course of the season.”
A short walk from Vanderbilt Beach, the local restaurant and full bar might be expanded in the future, Dugan said, but Buzz’s is just thinking about its 43rd season for now.
Buzz’s Lighthouse Restaurant, 9180 Gulf Shore Drive, is open 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.