The Lighthouse Café in Douglas recently added a lunch buffet to its menu, offering a wide variety of southern homestyle cooking and Tex-Mex cuisine. Now well into its third year, the restaurant located at 9165 Alabama Highway 75 provides a place for customers to enjoy a family environment and a meal.
“They’ve got good food,” Claude Stevens, a Lighthouse Café regular said. “The owners are good, Christian people. It makes it worth it.”
Jessica Garnica and her husband, Rafael, got the idea to open a restaurant while driving home from church one Sunday. He wanted to open a taco stand, but Garnica was able to convince him otherwise. They wanted the restaurant to be more than just a place that serves food; they wanted it to be a place for locals to meet and fellowship.
“They’re not going to do that over tacos,” Garnica said. “You need comfort foods.”
Despite having no formal training, they decided to serve southern foods alongside Mexican dishes — even mixing the two.
“We do breakfast burritos, and [the customers] have added gravy to it and then they want the homemade salsa on top of that; and my husband says, ‘my mother would kill me if she knew we were doing this,’” Garnica said. “They add [salsa] to everything. We see them sweating, but they enjoy it.”
Garnica credits her cooking skills to her Mexican American heritage. She was born in Blount County to immigrant parents.
“We had the best of both worlds,” she said. “When we wanted Mexican [food], we had Mexican. When we wanted southern food, that’s what we had.”
They chose the name “Lighthouse Café” with help from their church leaders.
“Everything is so dark through here in the morning … you need something to draw people’s attention,” Garnica said.
Though they have a regular crowd now, Garnica said it was slow going at the start. Close to six months passed before they started getting any business, she said.
“We would sit here and nearly cry because no one was coming in,” she said.
They were even warned against opening a restaurant over fears that locals might not embrace them due to their race.
“The way that I grew up ... I know that I have overcome a lot of things and there’s nothing that intimidates me,” she said.
The Garnicas have found the opposite to be true and have since developed a great relationship with the community, she said.
“They’re really good to me and my husband,” she said about the customers. “I couldn’t have done it without the help of the community.”
Garnica said they enjoy catering to senior citizens — many of whom are veterans — and are willing to go the extra mile to serve them.
“We try to do the very best we can for our senior citizens,” she said. “Those are the kinds of things I enjoy, I take great pride in. Because anytime that you can help somebody, it's a good thing that you do it. We do that. We go that extra step.”
The Lighthouse Café is open Monday - Friday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. The buffet is served around lunchtime for $9 plus tax.
To find out more information and to view the menu, visit The Lighthouse Café’s Facebook page.