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Global Foodservice: Attainable luxury

Welshman Knowles returns home, succeeds on a shoestring

By Anthony Fletcher
May 01, 2013

About 10 years ago, Andy Knowles was becoming fed up with his job in Cardiff. He missed his home county of Pembrokeshire, on the southwest tip of Wales, and so he and his wife decided to move back home with no fixed plan. 

A chance encounter with a café owner one day led to him becoming the proprietor of the Quayside, a modest-sized establishment overlooking the bay at Lawrenny village. He opened for business in 2004. “I really had no idea what to do,” he recalls. “I’m not from a catering background, so I had to find my own way. One thing I learned pretty quickly though — it’s a hard business.”

For the first few years, the Quayside barely broke even, and there were inevitable worries that the restaurant would go bust. But Knowles persevered and business began to pick up. “The best advert in the world is word of mouth,” says Knowles. “It is so strong. As they say, it takes 10 years to build a reputation, and 10 minutes to lose it!”

The Pembrokeshire peninsula is bordered on three sides by the sea. It is perhaps most famous for its Coast National Park, within which the Quayside is located. “We are right on the water,” says Knowles. “If this hadn’t worked out, I reckon I would have become a professional fisherman. Pembrokeshire offers some fantastic shellfish, but there isn’t a great amount of people making full use of this; lots of shellfish is exported to France or Spain, which I think is a shame.”

Knowles sources all his fish locally. “I know a fisherman who catches crab and he and his wife pick the meat by hand. I buy from him; in fact, he’s my main supplier, and we’ve kind of grown together. I get my fish straight from the boat, it’s just how I like to do things.” 

Although out of the way, Quayside has built up a reputation for simple, fresh seafood lunches. Crab sandwiches are priced at £8.35 ($13), dressed crab at £10.50 ($16) and crab claws at £10 ($15). A Pembrokeshire Smokey — butterflied summer mackerel — sells for £6 ($9), while half a lobster goes for £12.50 ($19). 

“We’re a low-cost, low-margin business,” says Knowles. “What we’re trying to do is make supposed luxury items attainable. I’d rather have regular customers than someone who comes in and has lobster just the once.”

This philosophy has paid dividends: In 2008, Pembrokeshire County Council presented the Quayside with the Best Use of Pembrokeshire Produce in a Hospitality Establishment award. Furthermore, by establishing a strong customer base, the Quayside has been somewhat sheltered from the economic crisis. 

“In a recession, people are more careful with their money,” says Knowles. “But if you are offering good value and good quality, and you’re known for it, people will keep coming.” 

He has just secured a second site, which is also located within the Coastal Path National Park. The property is right on the beach, which will enable fishermen to bring their produce directly to the restaurant. Unlike the current premises, which are only licensed to open during the day between Easter and September, this second seafood venue will be able to stay open later, and all year long. The Wave Crest café, as it will be called, is scheduled to open next March.

“I’m open to further expansion,” says Knowles. “We don’t have a lot of money, so we’ll just have to wait for the right time and the right opportunity. I would really like it if the staff here started to help run the new premises, and became full partners with me. That would be my aim.”

Ultimately, the success of any venture is down to passion, simplicity and treating people correctly, he notes. 

“If there is something you want to do, that you are passionate about, then do it. But be under no illusions: You’ve got to work hard. I read a ‘how to succeed in business’-type book after I opened this place; to be honest, I probably did everything you’re not supposed to, such as opening an establishment where there is no passing trade! But I do think that if you are there for people, and you are providing quality and value, then that goes a long way.” 

Knowles points out that the Quayside has helped to bring a rural community together, and now acts as a popular meeting place. In a rural area like this, he says, targeting just one demographic would have been a mistake.  

“The problem I have now is not worrying about whether I’m going to go bust, but about not letting people down,” he says. “The people you employ are a reflection of yourself, and your personality.”

Contributing Editor An-thony Fletcher lives in Brussels

May 2013 - SeaFood Business    

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