As Camana Bay has grown over the last decade, so, too, has its first restaurant, Abacus, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in May. For co-owners Markus Mueri and Neil Bryington, it’s been a thrilling adventure, with a few surprises along the way.
“Camana Bay is an ever-changing landscape,” says Mueri, noting that while the planned residential build-out of the development has happened slower than anticipated, the corporate office build-out to date has been much more significant than initially expected. “The vision of what was originally planned became different and evolved, but I think Camana Bay is ahead of its time. It’s built for the community and the community embraces it.”
Indeed, the community has embraced the restaurant, not only for dining pleasure but also as a destination for special events, which Abacus hosts throughout the year. Its most popular is the annual Mistletoe All-White Christmas Lounge Party, which takes place on the last Friday in December. Last year it attracted close to 1,200 people, says Bryington. Another standout event was when the restaurant hosted an exclusive cocktail party and auction that featured an appearance by visiting R&B superstar John Legend back in February 2012.
Throughout the restaurant’s history, different menus and themes have been introduced, but one thing that hasn’t wavered is the abundance of seafood dishes. “Eighty percent of what we sell is seafood,” says Mueri, who describes Abacus as a “contemporary Caribbean restaurant that serves farm-to-table-inspired cuisine on a seasonal level.”
When they first opened Abacus’s doors, neither Mueri nor Bryington could have predicted the availability of fresh local produce right at their fingertips. As the Camana Bay Farmers & Artisans Market grew in size, the restaurant’s farm-to-table dining approach emerged organically.
“It became a farm-to-table concept because the farmers here produce a myriad of supply — from crisp, seasonal produce to fresh fish and guava juice,” says Mueri. “Our farm-to-table approach was not created by us, but by the farmers of Cayman.”
Mueri and Bryington’s working relationship and friendship has lasted for over two decades and has resulted in a number of joint restaurant ventures over the years, with their first — Smugglers Cove in the heart of George Town — launched with just $5,000 between them. Currently they own and operate three restaurants in Grand Cayman, including Decker’s Grille and Lounge on West Bay Road, as well as Abacus and KARoo in Camana Bay.
Along the way, they have made sure that each new establishment is different from the others so that they don’t compete with themselves.
They’re also quick learners.
“With each restaurant, whatever mistake was made, we never made it again with the next one,” says Bryington.
Mueri has the type of boundless energy one might expect from a restaurant owner whose responsibility is to run the “front of house.” The tasks which he finds tedious are the ones that Bryington enjoys, and vice versa — hence, the perfect pairing.
While Bryington handles all of the financials and maintenance of Abacus, he is quick to point out that Mueri is the creator. “There is nothing in this restaurant or at KARoo that he hasn’t designed — from the walls to the bar to the kitchen and everything in between. He’s designed it all, and we just put it on paper and gave it to our architect.”
Despite being opposite in nature, they have a good relationship which is plain to see. “We are best of friends. If you see one, you see the other not too far behind,” says Bryington. “We enjoy each other’s company. There is also so much we have learnt in our personal lives together.”
“It’s a respect and trust thing, and it works,” says Mueri, who adds that running a restaurant is not as easy as it looks. Despite the hard work, Mueri says he enjoys the restaurant industry very much.
“It’s fun, it’s nice, and we’ve had a lot of good times,” he says.
Adds Bryington: “We look forward to next 10 years at Camana Bay. Our lease is long enough for it, and we hope to be part of it as long as Camana Bay is here.”