After Ten Center and a stint with a high-end Boston restaurant group, Batista-Caswell started to look for a venue of her own and found the 25 State St. storefront, formerly the site of a short-lived restaurant that served raw vegan food. That meant there was not a lot of actual cooking equipment on hand. “I could dehydrate a mean vegetable, but . . . ,” she recalled.
Ceia opened in December 2010 and has been busy most of the time ever since, even after she parted ways with the original chef in early 2012. She had known Soucy from his time at Michael’s Harborside in Newburyport, also owned by Karp, and brought him on. Soucy remembered her tenure at Ten Center, too.
“She was young, yeah, [but] she was a businesswoman; she was solid,” he said. “I’ve always known since then that she was pretty strong-minded. She ran the hell out of that restaurant.”
As a side business, Jeff Caswell and his brother had owned The Rockfish bar and restaurant in Newburyport for more than a decade of ups and downs and were ready to stop. Initially, Batista-Caswell thought of opening an oyster bar there, but she kept hearing that Ceia had outgrown its space. Tables were hard to come by on many nights, and she realized they were losing potential customers.
Plans shifted. Last fall the Rockfish closed for the last time, and renovations to the 1820s building began.
“Throw in the holidays, the James Beard dinner, and the grand reopening in the new space and a second restaurant all within eight or 10 weeks and you’re right, it’s very taxing,” said Marcoux, the chef at the new Brine. “But that’s one reason probably why we do it, for the challenge.”
Soucy and his friend and frequent coworker Marcoux seem like classic kitchen characters, cracking each other up one moment and almost maniacally focused on flavor nuances the next.
“Neither one of us has been to culinary school,” Soucy said. “We’re not puffed-out-chest chefs; we’re just dudes that love food.”
Among Ceia’s secret weapons is Caswell’s mother, who makes occasional visits to the restaurant to school the chefs in the family secrets of Portuguese cuisine, bringing along a batch of homemade Piri-Piri hot sauce or dueling with Soucy to make the best Portuguese sweet bread. Bread, in fact, has been a Soucy obsession of late.
“We have our own sourdough starter,” he said. “Her name is Lorraine.”
Joel Brown can be reached at email@example.com.