The F&W Best New Chef unveils Mamey in the middle of a pandemic.

By Nina Friend
August 17, 2020
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Courtesy of Mamey

Niven Patel did something wild: he opened a restaurant during a pandemic.

The Miami chef, whose restaurant group Aya Hospitality encompasses four other restaurants, is now a week into his new spot, Mamey at THesis Hotel in Coral Gables, FL, and he feels more refreshed than he has in months. And that’s saying something, considering that he and his wife, Shivani, welcomed twin girls in June.

“We need some good energy and hope, and Mamey has been a great source of that for me,” Patel said.

Mamey is a neighborhood restaurant that just happens to be in a hotel—a plus-side for the current times, since being in a hotel offers additional opportunities for revenue, like room service. The food at Mamey is inspired by the Caribbean, and much of the produce comes from Patel’s two-acre farm in Homestead, FL, called Rancho Patel.

Patel, a 2020 Food & Wine Best New Chef, has been working on Mamey for about a year and a half. Even though the restaurant industry and its workers have been devastated by the effects of the pandemic, Patel wanted to move forward with the opening, following every possible safety protocol. He said, “At a certain point, you just have to do it.”

Courtesy of Mamey

Part of this perspective comes from the reality that Patel, like many chefs, thrives off of the energy in a dining room. “A full rail of tickets and chaos all around me, that's where I feel at home,” Patel said. “Not having that has been mentally a little rough.” 

The other factor is what Patel refers to as "diner fatigue." His take is that since people have ordered takeout from the same places over and over again since March, they're likely looking for something new and exciting.

“Mamey is a little breath of fresh air for everyone," he said. "For us as chefs and cooks, and also for our diners. It’s a new beginning.”

At the moment, safety is Patel's number one priority. His team has been trained in all of the sanitation protocols; everyone wears gloves and masks, and washes their hands constantly. For Patel, it’s about making sure that his team thinks about the bigger picture and keeping each other safe. 

Courtesy of Mamey

For now, Mamey only offers outdoor seating, as indoor dining is not currently allowed in Miami. Summer in Miami, unfortunately, means rain and hurricanes. When it starts raining, they have to cancel reservations. Yet Patel remains optimistic. “We try to adapt every day," he said.

Patel’s advice for other chefs opening new restaurants right now? “Look at every possible angle to discover a revenue stream you can create, from takeout and delivery to merchandise,” he said. “Try something and fail. Be bold but be careful, and always take care of your team.”