History

The story behind the 35-year-old Island Pizza Company and its locally devoted owners.

Story Highlights

  • A family of Hurricane Katrina evacuees took over Island Pizza in 2007.
  • Owners John and Melissa Talmage have roots in New Orleans and New York before making Sanibel home.
  • Their Island Pizza specializes in local ingredients and local business relationships.

Hidden by the Sanibel foliage lining Periwinkle Way, Island Pizza sits in a low, wide building trimmed in green.

Inside chalkboard walls are scribbled with the day’s specials. Beer from nearby Point Ybel Brewing Company is on tap. Pizzas are topped with produce from Immokalee and Buckingham.

On the open-air patio owner John Talmage can be found trimming his Meyer lemon and kaffir lime trees, fruits that could make their way into dishes and drinks come winter.

“That’s the goal – keep things local,” Talmage said. “What you really want is to shake the hands of the people you do business with.”

Talmage has been shaking such hands since he and wife Melissa, executive chef at the neighboring Sweet Melissa’s Café, took over this 35-year-old Sanibel staple in 2007.

Two years before the couple and their two children were Hurricane Katrina evacuees, sheltering with Melissa’s parents on Captiva. John would make the 800-plus mile drive to New Orleans, where he worked as the director of economic development for then-mayor and now-convicted-felon Ray Nagin, “Before he and I stopped seeing eye to eye,” Talmage laughed.

The family made Sanibel their home in 2006 when Melissa, a classically trained chef who worked in famed kitchens such as Manhattan’s Union Square Café and New Orleans’ Commander’s Palace, turned the old Redfish Blufish into Sweet Melissa’s.

They bought Island Pizza soon after, “To make more casual food,” John said.

At Island Pizza toppings include shredded pork slow smoked in house. But they vary by season.

In March, when the island is flooded with snowbirds from Minnesota and Michigan, pies are often made with veal meatballs and melt-y fontinella cheese. In April and May, when the European invasion hits, you’ll see fresh basil and hand-pulled mozzarella.

“They want something they recognize,” John said. “That said, I’m sure pepperoni pizza is 50 percent of our sales, at least.”

Island Pizza makes pies for The Sanibel School, (not-so) secretly pureeing broccoli and cauliflower into that sauce to boost the nutritional value to students.

“When you use good ingredients and make things fresh,” John said, “Pizza doesn’t have to be a dirty word.”

IF YOU GO

  • Where: 1619 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel
  • Prices: Appetizers $3.99-$9.99; pizzas and entrees $8.99-$24.99
  • Also: Beer and wine only, outdoor seating, takeout, kids menu
  • Contact: 239-472-1581 or www.islandpizza.net

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