SANDRA L BLOOD
Mandisa Boxill is general manager of 54 Below, a cabaret supper club in NYC, located at the basement of the once-much-talked-about and famous, very controversial Studio 54 NightClub of the 1980s, disclosed a release. 54 Below is a restaurant owned by Richard Frankel, Tom Viertel and Steve Baruch, Broadway producers for the shows Hairspray, The Producers, and Smokey Joe’s Café.
Boxill supervises and manages the entire restaurant food and beverage operations which includes a lot of tasting.
She and her brother were raised by their mother, former St. James Secondary teacher, Heather Boxill, who instilled a lot of good values in them from very young, and it’s only when they grew-up, they realised it was a lesson in being independent thinkers and exemplars, relayed daughter Boxill.
Like her mom, Boxill was an actor. At primary school she mastered leading roles. She said she found it exciting. Her mom was actress ‘Beulah’ with the Strolling Players.
While at Woodbrook Secondary, Boxill succeeded at Maths, Add-Maths, Spanish, French, and because she loved teaching, gave Math lessons to many students. At Arima Secondary/Arima Central she succeeded at A-level.
“As luck would have it, it was the last class that offered A-levels, and a class where I pursued Maths, Business, English Literature and General Paper,” Boxill recalled.
While as house captain, which was a big proponent of the Carnival programme, Boxill said once again, she assisted many students with Math lessons; she became their mentor. At the UWI, T&T, she succeeded with a major in English Lit and minor in Theatre Arts.
Boxill’s lecturer Louis McWilliam encouraged her to audition for acting which became a weekly outing for her and some classmates, and at 19, she ultimately landed a major role as Micah Samuels in the 13-part Trinidad soap opera/sitcom, The Reef, that was aired on CNC3. She was the only successful acting student from her class.
Boxill eventually acquired her Green Card and secured a summer job on the Spirit Cruises boat that docked at the Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, NY, and traveled to the Statue of Liberty where passengers are able to dine and return. This experience enabled Boxill to hone her hospitality and management skills while being an event captain gaining experience at Angostura T&T, and bartending among other responsibilities.
Boxill said she never felt success while in Trinidad and she needed something more. “America opened a certain type of fascination; the bigness of the place, and so many opportunities, that I wanted to make my mark there.”
Her unceasing passion for dealing with people saw her acquire yet another major, this time at the St. John’s University, NY, that empowered her to deal with people even better and on a much wider scale. Public Relations and Advertising now boosted her portfolio.
“I maneuvered along many curves,” recalled Boxill, “and was ultimately accepted at 54 Below while they were still under construction. I came daily, and when the doors eventually opened to the public, I knew it was a place where I wanted to be. It was and still is one of the best Broadway Cabaret spots, and has the best food and drink programme among many other bests.
“Food was never on my radar until I hit America, and from May of 2012, I began as a back server/food runner for a few years while navigating, attending school and slowly climbing a ladder. I was promoted to server – the face of the .table – and eventually became one of the best salespersons.”
Owing to Boxill’s elevated sales and interpersonal skills, and ability to properly navigate a customer’s evening, the first week she sold six of the most expensive bottles of wine. She was promoted to service captain.
Boxill said at 23, she continuously impressed the restaurant’s owners, and they regularly sought advice from her loving ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas.
“I was very ambitious, and with a curious creative mind and spirit, and continuously asked to be trained in different positions, I went all out gaining experience and impressing everyone. In June of 2018, I became part-time Manager operating with very high standards and integrity.
“Within one week, I became assistant General Manager (GM), and in three weeks, became acting GM.”
While God answered Boxill’s prayers, she was now unavoidably subjected to having to learn the level of management on the fly (restaurant jargon). After one month of looking for a GM, the greatest, unbelievable and most-humbling moment came for her – she was appointed full-fledged GM now looking for an assistant.
Boxill said every day she strives to do the very best, but also tries to exceed what she did the previous day. She also ensures staff are up to standard and happy, otherwise, without competent, comfortable, happy staff, operations suffer. Overall, holding them accountable for the job they are expected to do adds to an even better equation.
Boxill brought her unique Trini flavours and ideas with her and proudly introduced them to Broadway. 54 Below has embraced callaloo which was well-received at the Tony Awards. Regarding other dishes, local flavours are added such as chadon beni. Diners’ preference has become unusual salads and a side of fries instead of traditional entrées. Old-fashion chocolate with Angostura 7 Rum is a hit; sorrel margarita is in waiting; and as the pastry chef is half Trini, Trini Christmas black cake will soon come, said Boxill.
As wine-taster, on September 18, Boxill introduced 54 Below new wine, 54 Below Cabernet Sauvignon.
Among others, Broadway World.com, Wall Street Journal, ABC’s Good Morning America, and British Theatre.com have been intrigued by the fascinating match made in heaven – 54 Below, shaped in part by Boxill’s thoughts, charisma, food trends, record-breaking progress.
Boxill has grossed millions of TikTok views.
Mandisa Boxill’s overarching goal is to elevate Trinidadian cuisine with a flair for fine dining, elevate T&T food in NY, specifically in Manhattan and also, bring her food and culture to the widest world.