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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

May 10, 2019

Christine Carducci: The Leading Lady of Donavan’s Reef

By Lori Draz

Christine Carducci Donovan's Reef Sea Bright 2

Sunny Sea Bright has become an inspirational model of rebirth, a beach blanket of the old and new knitted together by the people. Within that blanket is another real story of inspiration, family and community. It’s the iconic Donovan’s Reef and its tireless, spirited leader, Christine Carducci, her family, partner Bob Phillips and the team.

Donovan’s was always one of the Jersey Shore’s hottest spots. Robert Carducci, a well-known cardiologist, and his two friends, Robert Phillips and Ed Bowler, were the original owners. Then, Robert Carducci and Bowler passed away. Shortly thereafter, Superstorm Sandy leveled this classic spot. Christine, who has been a social worker in the Long Branch School district for the past 25 years, evaluating and case managing special education students, inherited Donovan’s.

Christine Carducci Donovan's Reef Sea Bright 3

It would have been easy for Christine to accept nature’s decision, sell the property and move on. After all, this mother of two has a busy career and home that she shares with her son, Zach, who has autism. Zach has been a star student at the Douglass Developmental Disability Center for 30 years. However, Zach is unable to read, write or live on his own. Christine could have let Donovan’s remain a casualty of the storm, but instead she thought of the people and the employees who call Donovan’s home.

Christine Carducci Donovan's Reef Sea Bright 5

Christine and Zach

Inspired by Zach and supported by her partner Bob Phillips, her loyal staff and her five brothers and sisters, Christine accepted the challenge to help heal Sea Bright and rebuild Donovan’s. With quiet determination and a fierce, “never-say-never” attitude, Christine pushed through. Today, Donovan’s has become a national destination. It was listed on the 2017 Thrilllist 21 Best Beach Bars – the only chosen beach bar in New Jersey and only one of two on the entire East Coast. It received the accolade again in 2018 and was joined by one other bar in Cape May. Fans regularly send in photos wearing Donovan’s gear from all around the country and the world. In season, Donovan’s is open seven days a week, with live music, beach service, a bustling kitchen, a booming T-shirt shed and daily packed houses. And every night, Christine is there, often joined by Zach. She works all day in the school and all night with the people she loves.

Christine had only a working knowledge of Donovan’s, but “I just knew I could make it work. I didn’t know exactly how, but so many people helped, and I thank Zach for that too.”

Christine’s brother, Michael, is a builder and helped oversee the construction. All the rest of her siblings are a still big part of the business as employees and customers. The family connection even spills into the kitchen where Christine’s 80-year-old uncle, John Squeo, designed the kitchen. (Squeo was a former partial owner and chef at Jimmy’s in Asbury Park). And that family extends to the staff of close to 125, many of whom have been with her season after season.

The healing energy really is in the Carducci genes. Christine’s father was a doctor and her daughter, Emily, followed in his footsteps. Emily has donated thousands of hours to humanitarian projects and international medical missions.

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Emily in Kenya

“I made it a point to never allow Zach’s needs to overshadow my daughter,” Christine said. “She is completely fulfilled in her career, and I think growing up with Zach helped my daughter develop the deep compassion and understanding she needed to be the great doctor she is today.”

She credits Zach’s healing energy as well.

“He is the prince of our family. There are hard days, but he is a huge part of the community. Everybody knows Zach. He has brought so much joy and so many friendships into my life. It was Zach that led me to my career in the schools. It was my father’s wish that Donovan’s could take care of Zach’s needs as well.”

In the end, Robert’s wishes for Zach’s well-being have given this beloved business a renewed and exciting second life.

“I have so many people to thank, especially my partner Bob Phillips,” she said. “We reopened as just a makeshift Tiki Bar just to earn enough money to qualify for a loan from Two River Bank to build the Donovan’s you see today, which is true to the casual style of the original. Thank you to Mayor Dina Long, everyone who works at Town Hall and the incredible patrons who continue to make Donavan’s a global destination.”

Christine Carducci Donovan's Reef Sea Bright 4

If you haven’t been to the new Donovan’s yet, stop by Saturday, May 18 at 6 pm. Christine is hosting a fundraiser for DOORS. You can buy a $45 ticket via PayPal at DoorsNJ.org, or just come down and enjoy the food and fun because a portion of the sales of food and drink will go to the charity. Donovan’s Reef is located at 1171 Ocean Ave. in Sea Bright.