Dan Ponton at Surfside Diner on South County Road in Palm Beach
Many a family has had its postbeach afternoon saved by dashing over to South County Road staple Surfside Diner—named after the Nantucket beach Dan Ponton played on as a child—with beach bags in tow for the expertly prepared, quickly delivered food. Hours later, many of those same parents have let out a baby-sitter-supported, child-free breath of relief over cocktails, delicious gourmet fare and slow dancing at Club Colette.
If that 24 hours of island living sounds familiar to you, then you owe a tip of the hat to Dan Ponton. Ponton, who acquired Club Colette from Dr. Aldo Gucci in 1982, opened Surfside Diner in 2014 after Hamburger Heaven moved to Clematis Street after 50 years. “When Hamburger Heaven closed, I was truly sad,” Ponton says. “I had many happy memories in that room, and I believed it was important to keep a small-town vibe alive in Palm Beach.”
The fact that Ponton’s two restaurants occupy positions on opposing ends of the culinary spectrum has allowed the establishments to integrate themselves into the full-day cycle of residents’ lives, which Ponton enjoys. “I’ll see a family with their young kids eating burgers during the day, then later that night see the grown-ups spending a happy evening out with friends. That combination of experiences makes me smile, and I couldn’t do any of it without my great co-workers. At each location they are amazing!”
That sense of community service has been a driving force in Ponton’s life away from the restaurants as well. After surviving a life-threatening health issue 13 years ago, Ponton threw himself into medical philanthropy and used his resources to establish two chairs in neuroscience, one at Harvard University and one at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He then took his charitable work to the global stage partnering with hot shot architects from Mass Design to create residences for visiting medical workers in Butaro, Rwanda. Not only did this improve the quality of care and education for patients and medical staff, it actually won an international award for architecture. This keen attention to detail and extraordinary kindness have come to define Dan Ponton as a successful businessman, community leader and humanitarian. “Palm Beachers are the global model for extraordinary philanthropy,” says Ponton. “I am so grateful to have been here my whole adult life.” And we, in turn, are lucky to have him.