Important parts of the Agua team include, from left, co-owners Cristiano Vincentini and Walter Fajette, award-winning bartender Cory Scruggs and executive chef R. J. Dye. Photo: Rhian Campbell
By Alan Markoff
On the 27th of this month, Agua Restaurant & Lounge will mark its 10-year anniversary with a celebration on the Island in Camana Bay Harbour. In June of this year, another anniversary — the restaurant’s one-year anniversary in Camana Bay — passed with little fanfare, but it was an important milestone nonetheless, given the success Agua has experienced since its move from Galleria Plaza.
“We were surprised at how good the move has been and how successful the business would become,” says Agua’s co-owner, Cristiano Vincentini, who noted that the restaurant has stayed very busy from the day it opened in Camana Bay. “Obviously, there were some slowdowns during certain times of the year, but it has not been what we expected, or what we experienced before.”
One of the big reasons for staying consistently busy has been Agua’s lunchtime business. “The lunch crowd has been constant since we moved to Camana Bay,” Vincentini says. When Agua first opened in Camana Bay, some customers would tell Vincentini that “they liked the old Agua better.”
“Now, we never really hear people say they preferred the old Agua,” he says.
Rather than just taking the exact approach it had been using with success, Agua used the opportunity of the move to make some changes.
“The menu has been changed a lot,” says Vincentini, noting that he and Agua co-owner Walter Fajette worked closely in developing the new menu with Executive Chef R.J. Dye, who promoted an ingredient-based menu that used local produce whenever possible. “It was a nice union between the two realities,” says Vincentini. Fajette agrees. “He had to compromise a bit and we had to compromise a bit, but we came up with a better product,” he says.
Another part of Agua’s success has been its staff.
Beyond being known for its food — a fusion of Italian, Peruvian and Caribbean cuisine — Agua was one of the first restaurants to embrace the craft cocktail culture on Grand Cayman and is therefore also well known for its bar.
The current star behind the bar is Cory Scruggs, who has continued Agua’s history of employing some of Grand Cayman’s best bartenders. Scruggs became the second Agua bartender to win the Cayman Islands segment of the Diageo Reserve World Class cocktail competition earlier this year. In September, he traveled to Glasgow, Scotland, to represent the Cayman Islands in the World Class Global Finals and compete against the winners of 54 other countries.
The nine-day finals trip, which included visits to the Ketal One distillery in Schiedam, Holland, and to the Talisker distillery on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, came after participating in a “cocktail bootcamp” with other Latin American and Caribbean country winners in Costa Rica, an annual training module Diageo offers all its country winners to prepare them for the rigours of the Global Finals.
Fajette and Vincentini supported Scruggs — and many other of the restaurant’s bartenders in the six years the competition has been held in the
Cayman Islands — in missing time from work to participate in the Cayman Islands segment of the competition that occurs in what Diageo calls “waves.” “We support them for reasons of motivation and knowledge,” Fajette says, noting that the bartenders learn tremendously even in the local wave segments of the competition.
Supporting the bartenders to participate in Diageo World Class — no matter how far they advance — also helps Agua keep the bartenders happy.
“If you have the guys just shaking cocktails every day, they can lose their motivation,” says Fajette, adding that not all Agua bartenders participate. “We invest in those who deserve it.”
The investment has paid off, as Agua’s bar has established itself as one of the best for high-quality, craft cocktails.” If you want to have a cocktail, we want you to come here,” says Fajette. Agua’s staff support applies for the servers and even for Chef Dye. Agua has sponsored many of its servers to attend sommelier courses and it arranged for Dye to spend three weeks working in the kitchens of two noted restaurants in Italy. “It all helps raise the level of our product,” says Vincentini.
When it comes to wines, the level of the product has a direct correlation with investment. In September, Wine Spectator magazine confirmed Agua would retain its two-glasses “Best of Award of Excellence,” a distinction it first received in 2015. Fajette says a lot of thought goes into Agua’s wine list, with wines bought from a variety of sources in order to differentiate from other restaurants on the island. He’s proud that Agua doesn’t sell only expensive wines, but instead offers price points for any budget. “We have 60 wines under CI$50 and 100 wines under $75,” he says. “We literally have wines for every pocket.” Not unsurprisingly, given its approach to cocktails, Agua also offers an extensive selection of wines by the glass, even offering single glasses of some premium wines.
This article originally appeared in the November 2019 print edition of Camana Bay Times with the headline “Agua: A restaurant success.”