WILLIAMSBURG — In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. As a result, Chef Mikey Maksimowicz faced a slew of problems.
Mikey, the owner of Casa Pearl on Merrimac Trail in The Edge District of the Historic Triangle, initially had the same concerns as many others in the restaurant industry.
How does one stay in business without seating patrons?
A few weeks after pivoting to an all take-out business model, it became clear that lack of business was not going to be a problem.
“When we were open just for takeout, I thought there was no way to pay for my staff because we were not going to be busy enough to warrant having them,” Mikey remembers. “It turned out that I couldn’t get enough staff. We had never done takeout prior to [the pandemic], but we figured it out on the fly and were busy from open to close.”
Casa Pearl’s success in spite of a global pandemic can be attributed to a number reasons. Chief among them is the dedication to craft and quality which made Casa Pearl a local’s favorite from day it opened for business in December 2018.
With a small yet eclectic menu full of fresh seafood and tacos, it has something for both adventurous and picky eaters. The offerings from the cocktail bar seem to be limited only by the customer’s imagination.
For Mikey, his restaurant and its success has been in the making since he first started in the culinary world as dishwasher at a restaurant in the Outer Banks as a teenager.
After high school, he did a year at Virginia Wesleyan University in Norfolk, thinking he wanted to teach history. After some introspection he decided the academic track was not for him and began looking for another path.
The hands-on nature of the restaurant industry caught his attention.
“A lot of people look at cooking as an art,” Mikey says. “I look at it as a trade and becoming the best that you can at all the fundamental stuff.”
With that realization, he went back to the Outer Banks and washed dishes again. He said that was when he found his calling.
“I was promoted from dishwasher to actually be able to prep food,” he says. “I fell in love with knives and fire. I loved dealing with public, the adrenaline when you get behind. I just became addicted to it. I knew this was what I wanted to do in my life.”
Over the next several years, Mikey traveled all over the world honing his craft. From the Outer Banks, Mikey headed to the French Culinary Institute in New York City.
From there he spent some time cooking in France and a year in Argentina. In the United States, his work turned heads in restaurants from Florida to Washington D.C.
All of the time that Mikey spent traveling and working in restaurants was his preparation for opening his own spot.
After looking at the viability of a few different areas, he bought a building on the outer edge of Williamsburg that was once a gas station. Mikey said that he fell in love with the area and has been able to watch it grow over the last few years .
“The growth has been huge,” he says. “There is more traffic here, more buzz. People jumping from Casa Pearl to Virginia Beer Company to Cochon on 2nd. When it’s warm out they go to Shoofly. It has become our own side of town that people gravitate towards.”
Mikey had several reason for going into business for himself, from being his own boss to the thrill of creating one’s own success. However, a major reason is his desire to teach the next generation of culinary professionals.
“I love teaching,” Mikey mentions. “I wanted to be a teacher which turned into being a chef and a lot of being a chef is teaching younger people who really want to carry on the craft. To me that is what cooking is, it’s a craft. It’s very disciplined in a military style to run a very tight and organized ship and its very rewarding to teach people who want to follow in that and grow their career.”
To learn more about Casa Pearl, visit its website or follow along on Facebook.