A relatively new arrival on the West Bay restaurant scene recently landed the top restaurant ranking in the Cayman Islands on the TripAdvisor travel review site.
With the most recent reviews dubbing it “a sweet little oasis in the middle of paradise,” and a “must stop!,” the waterfront restaurant at Lighthouse Point is challenging stereotypes and attracting new regulars every day.
Owner Michele Zama is thrilled with the restaurant’s success, especially since it is doing its best to offer sustainable locally sourced fare that is vegan and vegetarian (with the exception of lionfish, which Mr. Zama says is justifiably on the menu due to its delicious taste and the fact that it is an invasive species ravaging Cayman’s reefs).
“It’s such an honor to attain this top ranking, especially since we are just a little restaurant and having just opened in November, we are very new,” said Mr. Zama, an energetic restaurateur who exudes enthusiasm for his food and for the restaurant’s green mission.
“Getting this number one ranking is so exciting, seeing as that we are a mainly vegetarian restaurant. It’s a sign that people out there want something different, healthy, and that the world seems to be changing in that regard,” said Mr. Zama.
“We try to focus on serving whatever is fresh at the market, and we’ve designed the menu so that while dishes remain constant, we are able to change them up a bit to reflect what’s fresh and in season in terms of produce.”
The restaurant is committed to its environmental responsibility and uses sustainable materials in its tableware, with products made from such materials as bamboo and wheat straw, and when possible, sourcing its ingredients locally from farmers, and even from its own staff.
“Our own Shannon Harrison has a small egg farm, and he brings in the eggs that he collects first thing in the morning, which we use in the day’s dishes, to give you an idea of how fresh the ingredients we use are,” said Mr. Zama with a laugh.
He said popular menu items include a coconut “ceviche,” as well as the BLT sandwich made with coconut “bacon.”
“That’s definitely one item people keep coming back for,” said Mr. Zama.
It seems repeat customers are behind the restaurant’s growing popularity.
“I go to Vivo several times a week,” notes a recent review. “The food is superb, the location is amazing and the staff is caring and very friendly.”
Mr. Zama says when the restaurant first opened, locals helped spread the word, bringing along their apprehensive friends who were unsure about tucking into vegan or vegetarian fare, who then became converts, and in turn told their friends about it.
“Word of mouth has been amazing for our business,” said Mr. Zama.
He estimates about 70 percent of the clientele are locals, with the remainder being tourists. Divers also feature largely among the the customers as the restaurant is located next to Divetech at the popular Lighthouse Point dive site.
“One of the most common things we have experienced is that people come in with low expectations because we are a vegetarian restaurant. They can’t imagine having a good meal that doesn’t feature meat,” he said.
“Again and again, we get the same reaction, where people are amazed by how good the food tastes and saying ‘Now I’m a believer.’”
He says Vivo’s swift ascent of the TripAdvisor rankings is resulting in more calls from tourists and local resorts.
“People are reading the reviews and saying, ‘Let’s give it a shot,’ which is so great,” said Mr. Zama.
He says he is very proud that the first-place ranking shows that it is possible for a business to be successful and sustainable at the same time.
The restaurant is now going even further with its sustainability efforts through a new initiative with Sustainable Harvest International, an environmental nonprofit working with farmers in Central America.
“We have a new happy hour that runs Monday to Friday from 3-6 p.m. with half-price wine, beer and cocktails, and for every bottle of wine we sell, Sustainable Harvest will plant a tree,” said Mr. Zama.
“This all fits in with our efforts to be and act sustainably in a variety of ways, and we are so pleased to see so many people are embracing this concept.”