16 April 2021
When Markus Mueri and Neil Bryington first met at The Lighthouse Club restaurant nearly three decades ago, they could hardly have known they’d become the best of friends.
“We didn’t exactly get on like a house fire,” Bryington says, “but even back then we both realised that each of us had different strengths."
Their complementary strengths have helped their company, NMVentures, operate many successful restaurants over the years, including Decker's, Abacus and KARoo, which all remain popular.
"We balance each other in all our ventures,” Mueri says. “We depend on each other and discuss everything.”
After first meeting, Mueri and Bryington became better acquainted while both working at Treasure Island’s Top of the Falls restaurant, where Mueri was head chef and Bryington the general manager. After what Bryington refers to as a "fairly long cocktail session," they decided to purchase Jammin’ By the Sea and turned it into their first restaurant, Smuggler’s Cove, even though they had little seed money.
“It was with the help of Maureen Watler at Butterfield, who even to this day takes care of our personal banking, and some vendors who were willing to extend a little credit,” Bryington says.
Back in the early days of their partnership, when, as Bryington says, they were "broke but happy," they tried to save money after they decided to open Decker's by remodelling the roof of Decker’s themselves.
“After three days of effort, sunburn and three chainsaws, we decided to let the professionals do it," Bryington says with a laugh.
Their early ventures blossomed into a legacy of successful restaurants that continues today. Their first Camana Bay restaurant, Abacus, opened in 2007 as one of the Town Centre’s initial tenants, and they’ve continued to produce popular food-and-beverage experiences despite difficult times along the way, including during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Mueri says that “waking up in the morning, facing new challenges and meeting different people every day,” keeps him passionate about the business, and he remains optimistic that the Cayman Islands restaurant industry will eventually emerge even stronger as a result of the pandemic.
Both Mueri and Bryington hope to inspire other restaurateurs through their professionalism, creativity and drive.
“I am very proud of the fact that a number of persons that have worked for us have gone on to be owners of their own businesses, both in Cayman and overseas,” Bryington says. “I hope that their successes have some part to do with the knowledge that we were able to pass on to them."
Though they might have once considered other pursuits — architecture for Mueri and commercial aviation for Bryington — it seems they were destined to meet and pursue this particular career path.
“Neil and I are best friends,” Mueri says. “He is the godfather of my son, Max. Family forever. Best friends forever.”
This article first appeared in the April 2021 print issue of Camana Bay Times.