Aqua Grill celebrates 30 years of business by giving back


On Sunday, April 15, Aqua Grill celebrated 30 years of providing “eclectic fare” with a “coastal flair” to customers in Ponte Vedra Beach by hosting a party with a purpose: giving back to the community that had made it all possible.

“It’s just an accumulation of 30 years of so many memories,” said Cary Hart, who has owned the restaurant since it first opened in 1988. “So many people have had special events here, they’ve had their kids work here, there’s been so many special moments here. We have done so many things over 30 years, and I think it’s really important that Ponte Vedra has a restaurant that’s their own, that’s not a chain restaurant. At Aqua Grill, we feel like we’re part of the fabric of this community, so we want this to be an accumulation of all the years of happiness and good times in the Ponte Vedra area.”

Held at the restaurant’s Sawgrass Village location, the party featured complimentary food, live music, an auction, raffles and more, with a crowd of both longtime and first-time patrons present to celebrate the occasion.

“We always do a party to give back,” Hart said. “This year, we’re raising (funds) for Kate Amato Foundation to fight pediatric cancer. We’re hoping to raise a nice amount of money and lighten children’s lives, and we also want to give back to our customers. The food’s complimentary, there’s a live band out there and it’s one big party.”

The Kate Amato Foundation is a public charity that was founded last year in honor of Kate Amato, an 11-year-old girl who lost her battle with rhabdomyosarcoma, a very rare form of pediatric cancer, in November of 2016. Founded by Amato’s parents – Lisa and Jeff – and family friends, the Kate Amato Foundation funds innovative pediatric cancer research with an aim of finding safer, more effective treatments.

“(Kate) was an extraordinary child, and we wanted to create something beautiful from all the pain of losing her to honor her life, build a legacy and change pediatric cancer,” Lisa Amato said. “We wanted to bring a voice to the disparities in funding between pediatric cancer and adult cancer. We wanted to advocate for these children, who need us to be their voice, and just try to make a difference.”

Amato added that Hart and Aqua Grill have been active supporters of the foundation from the start.

“Our first event was a golf tournament in November at Marsh Landing Country Club, and Cary Hart was very involved in that fundraiser,” she said. “He hosted a dinner at his restaurant the night before the golf tournament and helped to solicit golfers and sponsors. He was extraordinary—so kind, so generous, so helpful.”

In total, the proceeds from Sunday’s event were $10,250, of which $4,500 came from a five-course dinner paired with wines that was bought by Michael and Nicole Story and Michael Panczykowski.

“It’s overwhelming,” Amato said. “It’s humbling, it’s beautiful. The community support that we have received over the years has been extraordinary, and the community has continued to rally and support the growth of this foundation and building Kate’s legacy.”