Kathy Smart shares Sun Person of the Year honors

Person of the Year: Kathy Smart
Owner Kathy Smart is ready to greet holiday customers at Minnie’s Beach Café in Holmes Beach. - Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – When you walk into Minnie’s Beach Café you’re not just walking into another of Anna Maria Island’s amazing restaurants, you’re walking into a family’s home. And that family is helmed by Kathy Smart.

The staff at Minnie’s treats everyone coming in, from local regulars to vacation first-timers, as family, while the staff really is extended and chosen family. That is something Smart says is especially important when bringing someone new onboard. She’s been working with some of the same people since before she, her spouse Mary and other business partners, who’ve since retired, bought the café when it was Brian’s Sunny Side Up many years ago.

Sun Persons of the Year

2020 – Jack Brennan, Roser Memorial Community Church and Kathy Smart, Minnie’s Beach Cafe

2019 – Doug Copeland, Anna Maria commissioner

2018 – Dan Murphy, Anna Maria mayor

2017 – Bob Slicker, Swordfish Grille manager

2016 – Rev. Ed Moss, CrossPointe Fellowship

2015 – Kenneth A. (Andy) Price Jr., chief, West Manatee Fire Rescue

2014 – Gail and Ed Straight, Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Inc.

2013 – Charlie Hunsicker, director, Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Dept., and Rick Spadoni, Coastal Planning

2012 – Mike Selby, Anna Maria mayor

2011 – Roser Food Pantry

2010 – Rex Hagen, Hagen Family Foundation

2009 – Charlie Hunsicker, director, Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Dept.

2008 – Cindi Harrison, Anna Maria Elementary School

2007 – The Legacy III – Emily Anne Smith, Lea Ann Bessonette, John Chappie

2006 – Suzi Fox, director, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch

2005 – Cindy Thompson, Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce

2004 – Gene and Elizabeth Moss, Roser Memorial Community Church

2003 – Officer Pete Lannon, Holmes Beach Police Dept.

2002 – Sean Murphy, Beach Bistro

2001 – Carol Whitmore, Manatee County Commissioner; former Holmes Beach mayor

Smart moved to Florida in 1989 from Cape Cod and when she came to check on a friend’s house on the Island, it was love at first sight. She relocated from Holiday a few days later in 1991 and never looked back. Smart first started working at the local restaurant, now known as Minnie’s Beach Café, back when it was Brian’s Sunny Side Up in 1995. Though she’s moved from the Island to West Bradenton, Smart’s commitment and dedication to the Island community remains as strong as ever, something that really shines through the darkness of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It all happened so fast,” she said of watching the effects of the pandemic on her restaurant, which Smart said was packed on St. Patrick’s Day, the day restrictions on restaurants and bars were announced in Florida. Immediately afterward, she said restrictions kicked in quickly with occupancy dropping to 50%, then 25% and then to nothing as dining establishments were forced to close their doors to customers. The closure of the restaurant didn’t stop Smart and her staff from trying to reach the community, however.

During the pandemic, Minnie’s was open for takeout customers. It was also open to anyone in the community who needed food or some grocery items and couldn’t get to the store or afford to pay for food.

Smart offered free breakfast and lunch to children, no questions asked, noting that parents would otherwise have to take their children to King Middle School, the closest pickup location for food from Manatee County Schools, for “a sack lunch with a sandwich. They weren’t going to do that. I have a restaurant. Why not help?”

She also offered free meals to local seniors and grocery items for sale through the restaurant for anyone who didn’t want to take their chances in a local grocery store. And when someone needed something and wasn’t able to get to Minnie’s to pick it up, Smart and her staff made sure that person got what they needed.

“I don’t think I did anything that anyone else wouldn’t do,” she said.

And while Smart was working to help the community, when Minnie’s was in financial trouble over the summer due to the pandemic shut down and restrictions, the community reached out and helped the restaurant and its staff in return.

Smart said the outpouring of support and love from the community was both overwhelming and wonderful.

“Without the community, we would’ve shut down in August,” she said. “You do what you can do. Maybe I did help some people out but they help me out a lot.”

Now, though the restaurant is open for dine-in and takeout customers, Smart said things are still tough financially but she hopes for a better future for herself, her staff and the restaurant that she loves.

“It’s scary. It’s very scary,” she said of the ongoing pandemic. She added that when the shutdowns and restrictions began in March, she thought it would only be a month or so before things were under control and went back to normal. Now, nearly 10 months later, she hopes that the COVID-19 vaccines will help bring things back to a semblance of how they were.

“I hope that by spring the Island can go back to the way it was,” Smart said, adding that she also hopes that people will soon be able to visit without fear of catching the virus and that her staff will be able to work without having the same fear.

For right now, she said the restaurant is doing more takeout business than it used to and her plan is to “go with the flow and hope that things work out for the best for everyone.”

Smart’s hope going into the new year is that the pandemic will bring people closer together rather than pushing them apart, that she can keep Minnie’s Beach Café going, that the virus goes away and that everyone will finally be safe.

To the community that has embraced her and her business, Smart simply said, “Thank you so much.”

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