Quay Lagos

As she celebrates ten years at Quay Lagos, Tomorrow spoke to Susie Robson about her 45 years in the hospitality industry.

For those who have enjoyed the waterfront bar and restaurant located in the beautiful Marina de Lagos, Susie will be a familiar and welcoming face. The restauranter has worked in the hospitality trade all her working life. After college, she trained as a chef and then bought The Smoking Dog, a pub in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, “I just love the job,” she explains.

Known for its antisocial hours, the restaurant industry suited her and husband, David, who worked in finance. He worked away from home Monday through Friday, allowing her to dedicate her time to the business.

The couple were keen sailors in their spare time and sailed their boat across the Atlantic in 2009. They kept their yacht in Plymouth, so it was a dream come true when she took over a bistro in the marina. “This was the beginning of my love of cooking by the sea. Then, when it became busier, I moved to front of house.”

Susie had begun looking for other premises by the sea when she was contacted by a friend who had a sailing boat in Lagos marina and saw that the premises had become available. It seemed like an ideal opportunity for her and David to start a new chapter in a different country. Susie believes that a marina setting is great for business despite high rents. “People love something to look at – we have the sun all day and great sunsets – you can people watch.”

However, it wasn’t all plain sailing! Moving to Portugal and setting up a business in an unfamiliar country was a challenge. Fortunately, David helped her with the accounting side of the business, but, initially, the seasonality of the Algarve restaurant trade was challenging. “My husband is into his stats, so we have records for ten years and we think, how did we survive back then? But we now have more year-round trade. Mid-November and December are the slowest times and then from January onwards, it gets busier.” 

Susie with Jess

Quay Lagos has also evolved with the help of Jessica, who has been working for Susie since just after she opened. It was serendipity, and they later discovered that their mothers lived in the same village in the UK.  “I have taught her all I know – good and bad,” laughs Susie. Now that she is looking towards retirement, Susie is confident that with Jessica at the helm, along with her hardworking, experienced team, the business will continue to thrive in the future while she takes more of a back seat.

The business model has changed from a predominantly British flavour, with a shift to the American taste, and the number of Spanish, French and Italian diners has increased. “We are pigeonholed as being British, but our menu is now very diverse. Our chef is from Venezuela, so some Central American flavours are going into the menu now. Our dishes are all freshly made and we have something for everyone’s taste.”

In March, they closed to refurbish the kitchen. The couple likes to keep reinvesting in making the inside appealing. “We want to refresh the front of the house and put in new furniture as it starts to get tired, and we get tired of looking at it.”

Although they sold their boat, Susie and David still enjoy social sailing with friends. Fortunately, running a marina-side business allows them a great lifestyle and the ever-present comings and goings of the sailing community. 

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