George Hartley began visiting South Walton in the late 1980s, staying at Sandestin.
In 1991 he switched to 30A, and the
"30A was the new up and coming thing," says Hartley.
The family loved it, and the Hartleys purchased their first property here in 1991.
In 1997 the Hartleys took a step farther, decided life is short, said let's move to the beach and did.
Hartley commuted back to
Wondering what he would do next, one day he walked into Seagrove Village Market to purchase a coke and the owner was grumbling about wanting to retire. Hartley told him he would buy the market, and was back with a check by the end of the day.
"I had no prior restaurant or grocery experience," said Hartley. "My wife told me I was crazy."
He also had not even seen the market's books.
"But I was eating here three days a week and the parking lot was always full. It's been here forever and all the locals go there," he says now of his reasoning.
At that time, the market was mostly a grocery store with a small cafe in the back that served lunch.
When Hartley took over July 1, 1999, he told his six employees that “I had no idea what I'm doing, I gave everybody a raise, and told them not to go anywhere.”
"Nothing changed," he said. "The same cook has cooked here for 26 years."
After Publix's opening just a few blocks away, the market has evolved into more of a gift shop and cafe with increased seating indoors and out.
Open from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and Sundays from 10:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. for lunch, all the locals still eat there, and it is a must-visit for the tourists as well, as they look forward to coming back year after year for their "deep-fried love" fix. The market's tag line is "Serving Deep Fried Love Since 1949."
The lunch menu is served from 10:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. offering seafood baskets, burgers, salads, seafood platters, sandwiches, gumbo, chicken tenders, and fish and shrimp tacos, with nothing more than $24.99. There is also a kids' menu. And don't pass on the famous key-lime pie. Beer and wine is available. Smoked tuna dip or chicken salad are offered to go.
The front of the building at Seagrove Market Cafe is original and was built in 1949 as a live/work station by Seagrove founder C.H. McGee. The back part was added in the mid 1970s. Diners today can enjoy meals in the original front building on red-checkered tablecloth covered picnic tables, outside on the patio, or in the back section where you can watch a video with pictures of Seagrove dating from the 1940s as you enjoy your "deep-fried love."
"We do love our customers," said Hartley. "I asked the former owner what is the secret? He told me to buy fresh, cook to order and serve with a smile. If you take care of customers with a smile, you'll be fine. And we try to do that every day."