Seagrove Village MarketCafé celebrates 75 years

Journey of ‘Deep Fried Love’ to include ‘The George-normous Po’ Boy’

March 12, 2024
Special to 30A Food & Wine

SANTA ROSA BEACH – Seagrove Village MarketCafé, a beloved staple of Florida’s scenic Highway 30A, proudly announces its 75th anniversary this year. Since its beginnings in 1949, the café has been a cherished destination for locals and visitors alike, offering a taste of Deep Fried Love and a journey through seven and a half decades of memories.

Ann and George Hartley
Ann and George Hartley

C.H. McGee, known as, “Cube,” laid the foundation for what would become a beacon of community and culinary in Seagrove Beach. His vision and appreciation for the Gulf-front land inspired the café’s inception, which started as a haven for travelers seeking the necessities in a remote, untouched paradise. Throughout the years, Seagrove Village MarketCafé has evolved into a treasured tradition for generations of families. Ann and George Hartley, who purchased the restaurant 25 years ago in 1999, have lovingly preserved its legacy while infusing their own passion and dedication into every aspect of its operation.

Seagrove Village MarketCafé
Seagrove Village MarketCafé

The Hartley family have been South Walton locals since 1997, back when only 15 to 20 full-time elementary school kid families lived on 30A. Just one street over from their family home was the Seagrove Village MarketCafé. While the Hartley home was under construction, George would walk to the market and order a Coke. He didn’t even realize it had a restaurant in the back for months. Over time, George became a regular in the market, always ordering his favorite, the shrimp po’ boy. One afternoon, he overheard the current owner mention that they were ready to retire. George simply replied, “How much do you want for it?” That one question led to a check and a handshake that would change the course of the Hartley family’s future and place them on a culinary journey that has transpired into a 30A legacy.

“When Ann and I decided to purchase the Market in 1999, I honestly didn’t know the first thing about owning a restaurant. I just knew that if we had good food and we served people with a smile, we could figure out all the rest,” said George. “Throughout the years, we have learned a lot of lessons and met some of the most sincere people. They started as customers and employees and have turned into family.”

This was The Hartley Restaurant Group’s first venture into the culinary scene on 30A. Still, now they are known for numerous other award-winning restaurants in South Walton, including George’s at Alys Beach, La Cocina, Surfing Deer, and most recently the opening of their newest establishment, Village Market at Watersound Town Center.

The menu, rooted in Southern tradition, features signature dishes such as the iconic grouper sandwich, which Garden & Gun recognized in 2008 in their, “100 Southern Foods You Must Try Before You Die,” list. Alongside classics, guests can savor po’ boy sandwiches, fresh salads, and fish tacos, each prepared with the same commitment to quality and flavor that has defined Seagrove Village MarketCafé for 75 years.

“Seagrove Village MarketCafé holds a special place in our hearts,” said Ann. “Every season we have ‘the love talk’ with our staff. We only get one shot to make a lasting impression on our guests, one meal to make it the best they’ve had all day, and one moment to show them all the love we can give. We’re honored to have the opportunity to carry on Cube’s legacy and share the love and spirit of Seagrove Beach with each and every guest.”

The George-normous Po' Boy
The George-normous Po’ Boy

As part of the year-long anniversary celebration, Seagrove Village MarketCafé is introducing a limited-edition, outrageously large, specialty sandwich, “The George-normous Po’ Boy.” This creation features fried shrimp, oysters, grouper, andouille sausage, fried pickles, fried onions, hushpuppies, and more, all nestled on a crusty 12-inch roll with coleslaw, tartar sauce, and spicy remoulade—a true homage to the flavors of the restaurant. This po’ boy is $99 and the cost includes an “I conquered the George-normous” tee shirt. Follow Seagrove Village MarketCafe’s social media profiles to watch the hilarious video series of individuals in the community trying their best to take on this monster sandwich of “Deep Fried Love!”

The Hartleys’ dedication to preserving cherished memories extends beyond the kitchen. Upon purchasing the restaurant, they unearthed hidden treasures, including a cookbook by Junie McGee, offering a glimpse into the café’s rich history and culinary heritage. In honor of the anniversary, the cookbook has been reprinted and 300 copies will be available for purchase at the market, allowing guests to recreate beloved recipes at home.

At the heart of Seagrove Village MarketCafé’s anniversary is a newly unveiled mural, paying homage to the area’s storied past and vibrant community spirit. Crafted by local artist Kate Balyaeva in collaboration with the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA), the mural serves as a visual journey through time, capturing the essence of Seagrove Beach’s history and natural beauty for all to enjoy. The mural has become a hot spot for selfies and group photos, as it faces Hwy 395, right along the bike path.

Mural
The newly unveiled mural pays homage to the area’s storied past and vibrant community spirit.

In addition to culinary delights, Seagrove Village MarketCafé offers an array of souvenirs, including classic Seagrove merchandise, ensuring that visitors can take a piece of the beach home with them. Looking toward the future, Seagrove Village MarketCafé is excited to unveil new 75th-anniversary merchandise, further commemorating the café’s storied past and bright future. Locals can get a special red vintage keychain that will grant them different seasonal deals at Seagrove Village MarketCafé. This keychain is a way for the Hartley family to recognize their local customers, while also giving a nod to the restaurant’s history. Return out-of-towners and Snowbirds can get a white vintage keychain for their own specials, too. During the 1950s, people who owned vacation homes in Seagrove would often store their house keys within a designated “key box” at the MarketCafé. This allowed homeowners to direct maintenance workers to swing by the café to retrieve their house keys when they were away. The original key box is still on display at the market today.

To give back to the community (and marine habitat and Gulf fisheries) that have supported them for 75 years, Seagrove Village MarketCafé and the Hartley Restaurant Group have graciously sponsored one of this year’s jury-selected sculptures for the Underwater Museum of Art (UMA), the USA’s first permanent underwater sculpture exhibition (now in its sixth year/est. 2018). The sculpture, titled “Bubbly Barnacles,” by artist Donna Conklin King, consists of three large oblong asymmetrical forms with openings in the middle, stacked on top of one another to create more relief. Divers can shine a light into the barnacles at the sculpture’s base and may find some delightful surprises living or hiding inside. The deployment of sculpture as artificial reefs provides a source of biological replenishment and protective marine habitat, strengthening our coastal ecosystem and creating unique new eco-tourism opportunities. Ann and George said “Grouper has been real good to us. And we figure, what better way to show our gratitude than helping to create a new marine habitat?”

Stop by Seagrove Village MarketCafé to celebrate 75 years of tradition, community, and culinary excellence. Visit www.seagrovevillagemarket.com or follow on social media at @seagrovevillage.