Wharf is open for business
When Milos Damjanovic took over the Tavern by the Sea in St George's, he thought it would take a month or two to turn around.
But when he opened the place up he found the plumbing was dying, the kitchen wasn't functional and the furnishings hadn't been changed in years.
“The place looked like it was caught in a time warp,” he said.
Five months and $700,000 later, the Somers Wharf restaurant reopened on Wednesday, reborn as The Wharf Restaurant and Bar.
“What I'm really proud of is that despite all the renovations we didn't lose the character of the place,” said Mr Damjanovic. “It is now quite modern, but I don't think anyone would be afraid to come here in flip-flops. The place is still very charming and very bright.”
It cost just under a million dollars to completely renovate the place and hire new staff.
“Everything was purchased in Florida,” said Mr Damjanovic who is a partner in the restaurant with the Meyer Group of Companies.
“We hired a design company and took several photos and sent them to them. We explained that we didn't want anything super-fancy that would cause us to lose the feel of the place, but we wanted something modern and clean.”
The only thing left of the original furnishings is the now- refurbished bar and the flooring.
“We were going to completely replace the flooring,” he said. “But when we took the first layer off, the floor was in immaculate condition. We couldn't have bought floors like that. So we left it.”
The restaurant now offers an extensive menu with 14 different appetisers alone.
“Ronald Williams, who was a chef at Black Horse for 15 years, is our sous chef,” said Mr Damjanovic. “He has a very good reputation as a seafood chef. He'll be doing things like traditional Bermudian fish chowder.”
The menu is heavily oriented towards fresh seafood, but also has pasta and dishes such as chicken tikka masala.
“Having a broader experience, I know what this market needs,” said Mr Damjanovic. “Other than fresh fish whenever it is available, people like quality meat as well.
“I myself like a little bit of everything, but I am a meat lover. I love New Zealand rack of lamb, Angus fillet and T-bone steak, and those things are on the menu.”
Mr Damjanovic is originally from Belgrade, Serbia. He first came to Bermuda in the late 1990s while working on the Zenith and Horizon cruise ships. His cruise ship often docked near to Tavern by the Sea, so he often went in for a bite to eat or a late-night espresso with friends.
He met the former owner Herman Basden on his many visits and they became friends. Mr Damjanovic was first offered a job at the restaurant in 2001 but didn't take it because he had plans to move to New York.
In New York, he ran an upscale French restaurant for two years.
“It was a much bigger place than Tavern by the Sea” he said. “The cruise ship was a great school to learn about service and dealing with guests, but New York and that French place was a great school in terms of business. I learnt a lot.”
But he said Tavern by the Sea kept calling asking him to come and work for them. He finally took up their invitation in 2003.
“Very soon I was growing in the company and became general manager,” he said. “I made this restaurant very successful. There were little challenges but I managed.”
He was disappointed in 2011 to get a letter saying his work permit wouldn't be renewed.
“I felt bad about that because I had intended to stay for a couple more years,” he said.
“I went back home to Serbia and spent some time there. I realised really fast that I didn't want to invest too much there.
“After so many years living abroad I couldn't see myself living there other than spending time with family and friends. I love my country, but not business-wise.
“I moved to Grand Cayman and I started as an assistant food and beverage manager for a family-owned resort called The Reef. ”
He said he had a good life in the Cayman Islands, but it wasn't as charming as Bermuda. When he got a call from the Meyer Group of Companies to talk about him coming back to Bermuda to take over Tavern by the Sea, he didn't hesitate to say yes.
The Wharf is now open for lunch and dinner.
For more information call 297-3305.