Cardiff Character: Patrick Nevins

At 6 ft 7 in, the man running long-time healthy eating institution Kemi’s is certainly an imposing figure. But Patrick Nevins has a laid-back demeanor and gentle wit that quickly put others at ease.

Kemi's boss Patrick Nevins stands outside the restaurant

Patrick Nevins takes on the family business

Sitting in the Kemi’s Pontcanna customer area, its walls hung with local artists’ work, Patrick describes how he came to manage the family restaurant and explains his dislike of fixed plans. “If you set yourself really strict goals, financial or otherwise, then you don’t meet them, it’s really disheartening,” he explains.

Patrick, 25, is a Cardiff native. He started working at the restaurant as a teenager when Kemi’s, named for his mother who began the business, was in Craft in the Bay. In 2009, he moved to London to do a degree in Journalism, but came back to help out in the restaurant over summer holidays.

He stayed on in London for a year after graduating, but came home for good in 2013 when Kemi decided it was time to take a back seat in the business. When asked what convinced him to go back to restaurant work, Patrick says simply, “Did it early. Liked it. Think I’m quite good at it.”

His intensive seven-day-a-week work schedule means that Patrick doesn’t have a lot of free time for other interests, but he does enjoy films and TV. His latest binge was the second season of psychological thriller Hannibal. “It’s scarring, but I really like it,” he enthuses.

He also likes going to gigs, and recently travelled to Bristol to see Texas Thai funk trio Khruangbin.

Patrick chats to customers from behind the counter

Patrick ensures a relaxed vibe at Kemi’s

Changing times

Patrick has seen a surge of interest in Cardiff for fresh, healthy eating over the past few years, and believes it has benefitted his business. “I think there’s been a change in people not putting up with eating bad food,” he says. “If they’re going to eat out, they’ll eat something good.”

He feels being independent helps Kemi’s keep up with customers’ changing demands. Although being a member of a chain of restaurants would mean having external financial backing, it would also mean having to negotiate with a head office over changes, Kemi’s is free to adapt as soon as they notice a change in customer preferences. For example, Patrick says, “We don’t do pasta salads or couscous anymore because so many people want gluten-free salads.”

Patrick insists that not much can make him angry, describing himself as “happy go lucky.” But he does have a pet peeve: customers who make contradictory orders, such as a skinny latte to go with a slice of cake. Even then, he smiles and says, “I just ask myself, ‘Why?’”

Into the future

As for his plans for the future of Kemi’s, Patrick is characteristically pragmatic. “Keep doing what we’re doing,” he says, “keep the doors open; keep people coming in.” Changes in the restaurant have long been more organic than planned and he wants to keep it that way, with no overarching business plan.

“It’d probably be good from a business perspective,” he concedes, but thinks that going with the flow is better suited to the Kemi’s philosophy. “We’ll try it for a bit and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But at least we gave it a go.”