If you haven't been to Robinson's Wharf on Southport lately, you should go. It has gone through a few changes over the past year, and it just keeps getting better.
That's not to say it hasn't always been a fun, popular place to spend an evening, during Eliot, Marge and David Winslow’s reign.
David Winslow is now retired from the restaurant business. Robinson's Wharf has been sold to a Denver, Colorado, man and his daughter.
Craig and Kellie Slater have taken over the reins, and added some new dockage for pleasure boats to tie up, a new open-air bar with bar stools at the end of the pier, and some comfortable, pristine, glossy white Adirondack chairs for lounging about.
Winslow, who had owned the restaurant since 2006, when his father, Eliot, left it to him, said he never really thought of himself as a ‘restaurant guy.’ “I never really played a day-to-day role in it,” he said. He thinks of himself as a tugboat guy, as was his locally well-known father, Eliot Winslow. “I started working on tugboats when I was eight,” he said. “I brought Santa Claus into Boothbay Harbor by tugboat.” He now owns six tugboats — two in Bath, two in Portland, one in Rockland, and “half of one here at Boothbay Region Boatyard.”
According to Winslow, the original owner of Robinson’s Wharf was Maynard Robinson, who sold it to Bernie Lewis of Coastal Seafoods. The Winslows bought the property in 1972, and the business in 1986.
The restaurant went from being a take-out place to a full service restaurant in 2005, when the upstairs dining room was added. “Before that you could sit out on the dock and eat,” Winslow said. “But there were no waitresses — you didn't get waited on. There was all kinds of controversy when we did that, but that made it.”
Winslow said the two things that made the restaurant successful were the two things his father frowned upon. “Music and alcohol. We had to fight with him to get beer and wine in the ’80s. He was a teetotaler.”
Winslow said the restaurant is haunted by the ghosts of his parents. He claims people have heard footsteps upstairs, and doors slamming, and they swear Marge and Eliot are still there. “My mother liked vodka, and my father didn't like that,” he said. “Two weeks ago, on the day we were closing, we heard something smash in the upstairs bar. The manager, Hugh, went up, and a vodka bottle had come out from its holder and was on the floor, broken. At 3 o’clock all the computers shut down.” The closing was scheduled for 3 o’clock.
The Slaters, who have a home in the area, are in the real estate business in Denver. “They're great people and they have a great business sense,” Winslow said. “And they're hands-on. They're down there now painting the new Adirondack chairs.”
They were building the new bar on the pier last weekend. Craig Slater said there was often a problem with people waiting outside to be seated. “That could be dangerous, and not much fun. Now there's this area where you can get beer, wine and rum punch, and sit in an Adirondack chair, while you're waiting to eat.”
And Winslow had just had new pilings driven and new docks built on June 30, with 10 or 12 new slips for boaters to tie up.
Craig Slater said his family has always liked Robinson's. “There aren't a lot of changes we want to make. But we're boaters, and it wasn't boater-friendly enough. The new docks will remedy that.” New solar lights have been added to posts on the pier to make it even more inviting, and next year they'll install a new ramp to make getting from a boat to the pier easier.
“This is an investment through our real estate company,” Kellie said. “But there are a lot more moving parts to this business. The reason we like this is that it's obviously good real estate, but also it's a functioning business. And it has good management, and we're not going to change much. We want to keep it the way it is.”
Manager Rachael Leeman said she is very happy with the new owners. “I’m so excited about it. David is a great person, but I love the Slaters. We’re going to have a lot of fun.”
Kellie, an investment banker, said she designed the new bar herself. “I'm more of a finance, numbers person, so it was kind of tough, but I think it turned out okay.”
Dogfish Head Brewery will be supplying umbrellas and canopies for the bar area. The owners have a place on Southport. “The business isn't local but it's close enough, with the owners being here at Dogfish Head, so we like the idea of supporting them,” Kellie said.
Rachel Leeman and Hugh Thompson will continue to co-manage Robinson’s. Leeman manages the books and restaurant and Thompson manages the seafood market and the gift shop.
Arik Pickens, who has cooked at Robinson's for years, has been promoted to head chef. “He's a Boothbay/Southport guy so we're really happy to have him,” Kellie said.
The great food continues to be what people have come to expect from Robinson's over the years. “It's classic coast of Maine food,” Craig said.
And last but far from least, the outside bar area is dog-friendly. ‘I’m a dog lover and dogs are definitely allowed out here,” Leeman said.
Kellie Slater will be back and forth between Southport and Denver. “I'm going to let Rachael and Hugh do their jobs. I'll come once a month or so. It's a good excuse to take off to Maine.”