Interview with Coastal New England Rising Star Restaurateur Nancy Batista-Caswell of Ceia and Brine – Newburyport, MA

by Antoinette Bruno
April 2014

Antoinette Bruno: How did you get your start in the business?
Nancy Batista-Caswell:  I started when I was 18 back in Westport, Massachusetts, with Chris Schlesinger. Chris is a really great guy and he’s down to earth, all about simple food and quality. He didn’t worry about the whole formal dining experience.

[When Chris offered me a management position], I said, sure. I wanted to test myself and see if I could run a day-to-day. Then Chris published a cook book and I was in it and the world of head hunters picked me up from the book and started checking me out.

AB: How did Ceia come about?
NBC: Originally I wanted to start an oyster bar and I walked into the Ceia space and it was like copper bar, copper tables and all that, and I thought, I can't do an oyster bar here. Ceia means supper and feasting. So, I thought, I wanted European flair and started thinking of it from that way and that’s how Ceia started off. We sold out from that point forward, which created the huge problem of getting too many people wanting to come in. So, I started thinking about expanding. We reopened Ceia across the street and shortly after opened Brine in the redesigned former Ceia space.

AB: How do you motivate your employees?                                                                      
NBC: I motivate them in many different ways. I’m always encouraging them to grow, and I want them to be invested in the idea that dining is important. I want you to go eat out and give me the receipt and be involved and taste things, I’ll pay for it. Go experience it. They’re in Boston, they’re checking things out. I'm also here every day and I hope they feel that support.

With the wait staff, I make sure that we’re continuing their education and I make sure our wine suppliers are coming in and talking about the wine and all that. We do staff meal around the corner and we make sure we’re enjoying each other. Back in the day, in the world of restaurants, I think people thought everybody was replaceable and at some point everyone is, but I think they feel they are part of the bigger picture.

AB: Who has influenced your management style?                                                     
NBC: A lot of it came from Chris. We used to just sit at meetings and I would sit there like a crazy woman with my excel spreadsheets. If I felt like I made a mistake with him, it was okay and he understood. I wanted that kind of feel. And I want to offer real food and give people a genuine experience.