Chef Mark Heimann’s mission was clear: Take six food-and-beverage venues in one Fort Myers resort and remaster their menus to reflect a blend of cultural influences, befitting their unique looks and concepts.
Luminary Hotel & Co. was open just shy of two years when Mark entered the kitchens. The (then) four restaurants and coffee roastery, in addition to the catering operations for Caloosa Sound Convention Center & Amphitheater and event spaces, proved prolific additions to downtown’s gastronomic landscape. Each venue draws on the history and cultural heritage of the city; each dish reflects Mark’s desire to keep food simple and let fresh ingredients speak for themselves. The ethos dates back to his childhood, where, as the oldest of three boys to business-owner parents, he often tackled dinner (or at least got it started for the family). “Since I was 8, I wanted to be a chef,” he says.
Mark, who later graduated from National Louis University’s Kendall College culinary school in Chicago, joined the Luminary team last summer after spending four years as the food and beverage director of the Marriott Marquis Hotel in downtown Chicago. There, he oversaw 130 staffers. He wasn’t in the kitchens much and longed for the inherent creativity of being a chef and the chance to pass on some of the lessons he learned.
Before that, Mark honed his multi-restaurant resort skills at Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, the historic gem of downtown St. Petersburg, where he spent 23 years as executive sous chef, executive chef and, ultimately, director of restaurant operations.
Now, Mark is a dedicated chef when it comes to reflecting regional influences in the concepts he tackles, and it’s a challenge that excites him. “It’s an up-and-coming city area,” he says of Fort Myers. “We want to make The Luminary the place for food and beverage—one for guests and locals.” The idea shows in the breadth of the Marriott Autograph Collection’s offerings. Whereas the popular rooftop Beacon Social Drinkery exudes metropolitan youthfulness, The Silver King Ocean Brasserie anchors the Luminary’s design-forward lobby with its oceanic influences. Next door, Ella Mae’s Diner commemorates a late Fort Myers Black philanthropic doctor with notes of soul and Southern comfort food. Oxbow Bar & Grill, across the street on the river, leans coastal, with dishes like the cioppino—a spin on the San Francisco-style stew with Gulf shellfish, grouper and swordfish in a coconut broth. “When you walk into Oxbow, you’re struck by the amazing water views and casual feel created by the nautical colors and decor,” Mark says. “The menu reinforces this coastal, waterfront vibe with selections incorporating fresh, regionally sourced seafood and ingredients with flavors that speak to our roots. We use the same approach with each [restaurant].”
For the newest addition, Chips Sports Pub, Mark and team channel one of Southwest Florida’s favorite pastimes with two Topgolf simulation bays and a menu with dishes inspired by famed golf clubs: a pimento cheese sandwich straight out of the Masters at Augusta National in Georgia, and a brat topped with bacon, sauerkraut and sauteed onions like you find at the Whistling Straits Golf Course in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
And Mark isn’t just curating concepts. He’s shaping the future generation of culture-savvy chefs keen on keying into regional influences, like Ella Mae chef Angel Smith. “I don’t want to be the person that’s dictating every single menu, because you really don’t see a lot of people taking ownership or taking pride [in a menu] that’s not 100 percent theirs,” he says. For Mark, it’s about paying it forward. “Every chef that I’ve worked for, I’ve learned a ton from.” The mentorship approach also helps him ensure consistency at all the restaurants, even when he can’t be there.
As for the future of the Luminary’s culinary program, Mark expects he’ll keep mixing it up. “I always look for opportunities to draw on diverse flavors and styles of other cultures,” he says. And, the Chicago-born chef has plenty to draw from as Fort Myers’ River District continues its growth and evolution, with the hotel’s restaurants as a beacon of good things to come and Mark lighting the way.