Nancy Batista Caswell: Chef-owner of Ceia, BRINE, Oak + Rowan

Photo by Adam Detour

Nancy Batista Caswell is intuitive, gutsy and a champion of community. She bought her first restaurant, Ceia, at 28—off Craigslist. “I didn’t have much money at the time,” she says, clear that she didn’t want investors. “But I knew right away that this place would tell my family’s story.” The only U.S.-born child of Portuguese immigrants, she honors her roots through food: Sweet bread. Flan. Octopus.

Ceia’s success led her to open her second restaurant, BRINE (also in Newburyport), and her third, Oak + Rowan at Fort Point, Boston. Each has a strong focus on local sourcing and community building; philanthropy is core to her philosophy. “Giving back is a great perspective check,” she says. “Getting out of one’s own circle helps me see what others are dealing with, and not let my own challenges weigh so heavily.” Among others, she regularly supports the Anna Jacques Hospital, the Newburyport Education Foundation, Lovin’ Spoonfuls Community Servings and “Cancer Shucks,” an annual Jimmy Fund benefit.

Nancy is a gracious host and an empathetic, assertive team leader. Though she is approached frequently to open other locations, she wants to spend time to find out what story the next version of her wants to tell. She runs for stress relief, and sets aside a technology-free day each week to reconnect with family. “I love what I do. I’m clear about my vision. I’d be nothing without my team. And,” she laughs warmly, “I feel like somebody up in that sky is super nice to me.”

This story appeared in the Winter 2019 issue.

RAYNA JHAVERI is a TV chef on the Emmy-nominated cooking show Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Television. She's also a standup comedian, improv musician and executive performance trainer. For more information and bookings, go to raynajhaveri.com.