Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink will close its Camana Bay location on Aug. 30, the restaurant announced on Tuesday.
“It’s never easy to close the book on a project you feel genuinely proud of, but it’s time to move on,” said Michael Schwartz of his namesake restaurant. “I’m honored by the support we have received over the years in Cayman and from our partners at Camana Bay.”
Mr. Schwartz, whose businesses in South Florida expanded significantly in recent years, said his restaurant group would now focus its attention on growing the core of business in Miami.
The restaurant in Camana Bay opened in June 2010, a month after Mr. Schwartz won a James Beard Best Chef: South award, and became one of the main driving forces for the emergence of the farm-to-table dining concept on Grand Cayman.
“When we got there, there was just a little bit of a farm-to-table movement at Brasserie [Restaurant],” he said, adding that the opening of Michael’s Genuine, which was already embracing that movement at its Miami restaurant, helped create greater demand for local agriculture in Cayman. “I think it takes a little bit of momentum to push it to the next level and I’d like to think that by us meeting all the farmers and letting them know there was another outlet for their products, it created some excitement for them to produce more and different things.”
Local farmer Hamlin Stephenson said Michael’s Genuine was “very, very important” to the development of local agriculture in recent years.
“Michael’s was really the leading one to focus on local agriculture to supply its restaurant,” he said. “It’s going to hurt the farming industry when it closes.”
Mr. Stephenson said Michael’s was directly responsible for his farm growing some specific crops like kale, purslane and mizuna and that the restaurant was a big supporter of what has become one of Cayman’s most successful winter crops in recent years, cherry tomatoes.
Michael’s Genuine also led the way creating a demand for lionfish as a food fish. The invasive species of fish is a voracious feeder on smaller reef fish, posing a threat to reef ecosystems. Michael’s Genuine Chef Thomas Tennant was among the first chefs on island to embrace the use of lionfish in the kitchen at a time when many residents were still skeptical about the safety of eating it. Now, many restaurants on Grand Cayman regularly serve lionfish and Tennant’s lionfish dish has been a favorite of the attendees of the annual Taste of Cayman food festival in the past two years.
“I really had nothing to do with that,” said Mr. Schwartz, giving all the credit to Chef Tennant, but noting that the decision to serve lionfish fit perfectly into what Michael’s Genuine is all about.
“At lot of it is the commonsense approach to the way we operate our restaurants and Thomas is a great example. He’s been with us so long, he’s adopted some of our approach, and when he brought [the idea to serve lionfish] to our attention, we were all for it.”
Michael’s Genuine also blazed the trail on Grand Cayman for bars/restaurants to offer a selection of imported craft beers on its menu, and several other local restaurants have started doing the same since then.
In 2012, Michael’s Genuine also co-founded the annual Slow Food Day event with Slow Food South Sound. That event, which started out as a part of what was then called Cayman Culinary Month, pairs farmers and chefs together in an effort to highlight locally produced ingredients and how they can be used in cooking.
Mr. Schwartz said he saw the event as a comfortable way residents “could wrap their brains” around the need to support local farmers.
“We were willing to do whatever we could do to get people engaged and supporting local agriculture,” he said.
In 2014, the Dart Group and Camana Bay took over the lead sponsorship and organizing role of Slow Food Day in partnership with Slow Food South Sound.
“We look forward to continuing our support of the Slow Food movement that Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink helped to flourish in Cayman,” said Kristy Rivers, senior manager, events and experiences for Dart Realty. “We have a strong relationship with Slow Food South Sound and are enhancing the ‘All About Local’ experience at Camana Bay. We are excited for even more opportunities that showcase what our local food community has to offer.”
Over its final two months in Cayman, Michael’s Genuine will keep its regular business hours and offer some of the same things that have made it popular over the past five years, as well as some special events like a July 4 “Rum & Q” barbecue and rum tasting. During the month of August, it will offer three-course lunch and dinner prix fixe menus for a special price. At some point before closing, Mr. Schwartz said he plans to come to Cayman to personally thank all of his supporters and particularly his hard-working staff.
Dart Realty Chief Operation Officer Jackie Doak offered praise for the impact Michael’s Genuine has had on the Camana Bay dining scene.
“Michael’s Genuine has been an important part of establishing Camana Bay as the place to be for food enthusiasts in the Cayman Islands, and we appreciate all that Michael and the team have done to strengthen Grand Cayman’s culinary community,” she said.
The space where Michael’s Genuine is located on the Camana Bay Crescent won’t remain vacant for long after the restaurant closes.
“This fall we look forward to introducing a new family-friendly pizza and pasta restaurant which will be operated by a group of local restaurateurs, bringing a new experience to Camana Bay’s already diverse offerings from a dozen restaurants, cafés and eateries,” said Mrs. Doak.