Family rebuilds, reopens Bonita Bill’s in honor of the man behind the name

Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

Pain and destruction are only the beginning of the comeback story for a waterfront eating institution near Fort Myers Beach.

Bonita Bill’s has officially made its grand opening on San Carlos Island just one day short of six months since Hurricane Ian made landfall.

The road back has not been easy, but for one family, in order to build it back, they had to lean on each other.

Boat washed onto Bonita Bill’s. (Credit: Shared with WINK News)

One of the newest additions to Bonita Bill’s is a large boat, courtesy of Hurricane Ian. The storm surge launched the boat onto the deck and is now a part of history.

Bonita Bill’s is about as historic as it gets on the San Carlos Island side of the bridge, but a huge chunk of its history was taken away from them after the hurricane hit. Bringing the place back to life was a family affair.

Bonita Bill’s was built by the backbone of the bayside community and was rebuilt with a rebirth in mind.

“My dad was Bill Semmer. He’s been here since… He came right after the Vietnam War,” said Katie Reynolds.

Six months after the hurricane’s storm surge inundated the restaurant with water and debris, Bonita Bill’s is back.

Bonita Bill’s Hurricane Ian damage. (Credit: Shared with WINK News)

“Everyday all day was on it to get it open as fast as we can because we knew people depended on this place,” said.

The restaurant still has the same old trademarks.

“My son and my daughter-in-law are a police officer and a firefighter. They have their patches in here,” Dale Dhuey, from Wisconsin.

The law enforcement badges on the beams above are back, as are the loyal customers.

“The perseverance of everyone to come back has been so inspiring,” said Reynolds.

Reynolds is one of Bonita Bill Semmer’s three children who helped rebuild the business back to its former glory. There’s just one thing missing, Bonita Bill himself.

“It’s been tough, you know; he was kind of the glue that kind of held us all together,” Reynolds said.

Bill Semmer. (Credit: Shared with WINK News)

Bill Semmer survived Hurricane Ian. He was at the restaurant the next day, trying to clean the place up, but in December, three months after the storm, Semmer was diagnosed with melanoma.

His family was anticipating three months of treatment, but Semmer died three weeks after the diagnosis.

“He was just a … Sorry, I’m trying not to cry. He was just really a man of the community. He loved his family,” said Reynolds.

Suddenly, Reynolds and her two siblings were left with the fate of the business in their hands. There was never any doubt about what they’d do.

“The next day. I knew. I said I have to get to work,” said Reynolds.

It was and had to be a family affair. The three siblings and more volunteers than they could have ever imagined picked the pieces up and got to work. Building Bonita Bill’s back brick by brick in honor of Bonita Bill.

“It’s going to leave a really big hole in the community. And we just want to do our best to honor him and his memory and legacy. And keep as much as we can going for him,” said Reynolds.

Hearing the story of Bill Semmer, you can tell that he was the type of guy who wouldn’t want his children to worry, he would want them to get back to work on their labor of love.

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