10/03/2012 10:51:00 AM

Ceia Staff Heads to James Beard as Newburyport Resto Plans to Expand

Ceia is moving and expanding on the same street in Newburyport.
Ceia Kitchen + Bar, a Newburyport hot spot known for its European coastal cuisine and Wine Spectator award-winning wine list, is moving and expanding.

The news comes on the heels of the announcement that executive chef Patrick Soucy and his kitchen team are scheduled to cook at the James Beard House on December 27 - marking a maiden voyage for Soucy and Ceia. (Stay tuned for the full menu!)

Nancy Batista-Caswell, proprietor and wine director of Ceia (pronounced SAY-yah), said she will close the restaurant's doors at 25 State Street in Downtown Newburyport after the James Beard gig and reopen across the street at 38 State Street early in 2013. The new Ceia will occupy three levels, thus expanding from a roughly 1,200-sq.-ft. footprint to 3,300 sq. ft.

Rockfish, an American pub, currently operates at 38 State Street and is owned by Batista-Caswell’s husband, Jeff Caswell, in partnership with his brother, Jay, and colleague, Dan Wilson. Rockfish is slated to close October 10 so renovations on the space can begin.

Batista-Caswell said there are plans afoot to bring a new concept to 25 State Street, but is waiting for a liquor license hearing to release details. The two “new” restaurants are slated to open within six weeks of each other.

The new Ceia will maintain much of the rustic, romantic charm guests have come to love. The first floor will mimic the current location’s decor, whose exposed brick, antique mirrors, lamp sconces, wooden booths and copper tables create a cozy intimate setting. The copper bar with wine racks will be reestablished in the new space. The second floor will feature more dining, an open kitchen and a chef’s table where Soucy will treat guests to a tasting menu. The second floor will also be available for private events. Another bar, likely mahogany, and lounge area will occupy the third-floor loft space. In all, Ceia will go from having about 54 seats inside, plus eight patio seats, to shy of 150 seats in the new space. Outdoor seating at the new location is being worked out.

Having more seats will hopefully mitigate the need to turn guests away, which Ceia sometimes has to vis-à-vis demand and its capacity restraints in the current locale. The move also means doubling kitchen and front-of-house staff.

Soucy, who will continue to be the executive chef of Ceia, will also maintain a farm-to-table menu, focused on Portuguese comfort dishes (à la Batista-Caswell's heritage) and European coastal cuisine with a twist.

“I’m excited about it, and of course there are challenges and fears,” admits Batista-Caswell, who’s built a solid reputation as a neighborhood hot spot and wants to maintain standards in all areas of operation in the new location.

Batista-Caswell is head of the Caswell Restaurant Group LLC based in Newburyport. In answer to the question about Ceia’s expansion, she replied, “I always knew it was going to be larger than this.”


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