Continuing a Culinary Legacy: How Cafe Thirty-A Honors Harriet Crommelin's Vision - 30A

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Continuing a Culinary Legacy: How Cafe Thirty-A Honors Harriet Crommelin’s Vision

By: Carrie Honaker | Posted Sep 5, 2023

On February 8, 2023, the 30A community lost one of its icons. Harriet Crommelin, the beloved founder of Cafe Thirty-A, died unexpectedly leaving the restaurant to longtime employees Jackie Maliszewski and David Kessler.

“She didn’t have any children of her own; we were her children. Dave shared an office with her and sat next to her for 26 years. I’ve been here going on 20 years. It’s bittersweet. She was a mentor to both of us and we treated this restaurant like it was our own long before it was. We don’t plan on changing anything. We just want to continue her legacy as long as we can,” Maliszewski said.

That legacy started back in 1994 when Crommelin would trade the hustle of her flagship restaurant Kat & Harri’s in Montgomery, Alabama for long weekends relaxing on 30A. One time she came over and tried to get a reservation at Criolla’s, the only restaurant around back then, and the first available was nine o’clock. That started the wheels turning for her to open another restaurant but on 30A. 



Maliszewski elaborated, “She had the vision; she knew this would be the next place. In 1994 they started building the restaurant and in 1995 Cafe Thirty-A opened.”

“A lot of people ask if this was a house before, but it was built as a restaurant from the ground up. Harriet wanted it to feel like a home—her main goal was to make people feel comfortable and welcome.”

What started as identifying a need became an iconic 30A restaurant touted as “consistently delicious” that has always offered a little bit of everything to satisfy even the most discerning diner. Much of the staff has been at Cafe Thirty-A for 10-plus years, an achievement in the mercurial world of restaurants. Maliszewski attributes this to Crommelin’s fiercely loyal character and her tendency to look at all her employees like extensions of her family. “Harriett treated all of us like her children. If you got into trouble, she would get onto you for it but, she always supported us.”



Kessler and Maliszewski ran the restaurant for years before Crommelin’s passing, but owning such a community plankholder feels different. Now they say grace over all the employees, the day-to-day operations, and all the little things she just took care of before.

“Harriet’s death brought Dave and me closer. We both have our families. He’s been married for over 20 years and has three kids. I’m going on 17 years married with one child. We’re figuring out how to balance working like crazy with our home lives. Harriet was a trailblazer for this area, and I am just so fortunate to be a part of what she created,” Maliszewski said.

That creation is one of the most highly-regarded restaurants on 30A. The upscale decor, valet when parking can be a bear, and top-notch service always deliver a memorable evening. And that doesn’t touch the food and beverage experience. The wine list (a passion project of Kessler) offers a wide variety of bottles at many price points. Looking for a Sancerre? They have it. Lusting after a Garnacha from Spain. It’s on the list. One of the most innovative items is the half-bottle list—it’s extensive and features the same kaleidoscope of offerings. 

Seared Scallops

Then there’s the food. There’s a reason for the “consistently delicious” reputation. Cafe Thirty-A delivers consistently delicious meals. Don’t miss the fresh gulf seafood in inventive, global preparations like the current halibut preparation with udon noodles, baby bok choy, gojuchang chili glaze, lemongrass broth, and more. Or that pork chop, man that pork chop. It’s grilled to perfection, served with smoked gouda creamed corn, apple & bacon collards that would make any Southern grandmother proud, and a glaze of guava chipotle sauce that imparts the sweet heat that makes this dish consistently delicious.

Crommelin cared about her community beyond providing a stellar dining experience. Her philanthropic work was legendary.

Every year, the Christmas Charity Ball brings together community members for an evening of imbibing and revelry where all proceeds benefit neighbors in need with household bills, clothing, and food. In 2022 the event raised a record $50,000. Then there’s Soiree on the Bay, an upscale fine wine, food, and spirits event benefitting Children’s Volunteer Health Network (CVHN) that raised a staggering $329,000 for the non-profit. “They provide free dental care for all the surrounding counties, not just Walton, but Okaloosa, Bay, and Santa Rosa. We’ve got kids so it means a lot to Dave and I to continue that work,” Maliszewski said. Crommelin also had a spot in her heart for Alaqua Animal Refuge and donated to the work they do for our community animals in need.

Kessler and Maliszewski plan to carry on Crommelin’s legacy in the restaurant and community, taking care to keep everything as, “…consistently delicious as it’s always been.” And Crommelin will be watching over them from her favorite spot in the bar. “Our chef who’s been here five years, had Harriet’s picture matted and architect Darrell Russell put it in a shadowbox for us.” It now hangs over her favorite table where she can still be a part of the tight-knit wining and dining community she helped build.

To learn more, visit Cafe Thirty-A or follow them on Facebook.

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Carrie Honaker is a Florida-based freelance writer who is not sure where she will land next, but it will involve messy eating, a spicy Tempranillo, and finding the local dive bar. Her work has been featured in Wine Enthusiast, Bon Appetit, and others. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @writeonhonaker.

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