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Hastings People #1: Lindsay Wright, the new face of ‘Maggie’s’

‘Maggie’s’ at Rock-A-Nore is no ordinary fish and chips restaurant. Loved by food critics, locals and visitors alike, it is a Hastings’ institution where excellence and tradition meet, and around 13,000 customers a year are served. So when Maggie herself – owner and chef for more than 20 years – moved on earlier this year, many wondered if things could ever be the same. Toby Sargent went to meet the new owner, Lindsay Wright, for the first of our Hastings People profiles.

Lindsay Wright is a good example of Benjamin Franklin’s well-known aphorism: ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.’ She has been running a management training business in London for the last 30 years; is part owner of the Old Rectory, the upmarket boutique hotel\B&B in the Old Town and is now co-owner and manager of ‘Maggie’s’, the fish and chip restaurant among the black huts on Rock-A-Nore.

Traditional fish and chips, cooked to order

Maggie's Lindsay and chef (2)

Lindsay Wright with chef Slawek

One of three co-owners actually. She, along with Lionel Copley of Swan House renown and Stanislav Krezelok, former chef at The Old Rectory, now co-own ‘Maggie’s’. Although Lindsay is very much the day-to-day driving force. Her mission statement is precisely the same as that which served Maggie so well:

“Traditional fish and chips, cooked to order, so none is left hanging around.

“Maggie went through all her recipes with us and gave us complicated training. The batter has to be just right, so we practised and we practised again until we got it right.”

Maggie’s grand-daughters

In fact two of Maggie’s grand-daughters, Abie and Kaya, are full-time staff along with Rachel and Julie, who herself has 13 years experience of the place. You rather sense that they would be the first to raise a sceptical eyebrow or two if Lindsay tried to make too many changes to the winning formula.

The chef by the way is Slawek, and I am happy to confirm that Maggie’s legacy of fresh fish, light batter and crispy chips is in very capable hands.

Maggie's balcony

The coveted balcony tables with sea view and parasols for shade and as a seagull deterrent

Cod and chips is the most popular dish but, as Lindsay points out, “haddock comes a close second.” They’ll take special orders too, given enough notice, and the availability of the required fish in the market.

The business seems strong, and resists the seasonal dips that can produce headaches for so many seaside businesses. In fact Lindsay already has a booking from 54 French men and women for the day before the town’s firework display later this year. Maggie’s, it seems, has an international profile along with everything else.

This is all good stuff. And Lindsay is keeping her eyes firmly on the future, seeing no reason why ‘Maggie’s’ should not be good for many years to come. She speaks with more authority than many, of course, because she has the fish business in her blood:

“I came down from London 15 years ago and always wanted a hands-on business. But I come from a fishing family in Grimsby originally. My Granddad was a fish merchant with a fleet of trawlers so when I was a kid I went down to the docks to watch the fish come off.

“When he wanted to get rid of the business, he said to my Mum, ‘I’m going to give the business away because the only person who could run it is Lindsay, and she’s a girl.’ And that did not go down well with Mum!

“But I don’t think at 18 I would have wanted it. I wanted to go to London – Grimsby didn’t have a lot to offer.”

Maggie's menu (2)

Evening menu – cod and haddock remain firm favourites

‘Maggie’s’ is famous for its fresh fish, and is actually situated above a fish merchant that supplies their main ingredient. But the topic of fresh fish can be an issue among fish and chip shops and restaurants in seaside towns, I’ve heard. Lindsay is clear on that point:

“It’s not fish off the boat all the time because cod is a North Sea fish. We buy our fish from the local fish market downstairs, and then one of us will go each morning down to the huts to see what’s good, so the ‘Fish of the Day’ comes straight off the boat.”

And because the journey from sea to plate is such a short one, timing for the cooking is planned with precision. Booking your table in advance is a must. The diner who just turns up on spec may have to wait 20-30 minutes before tucking in.

Maggie's blue and flag

Flying the flag since 1993

But not all customers leave happy, apparently. There are 389 reviews on TripAdvisor, 347 of which give it five or four star reviews, meaning ‘Excellent’ or ‘Very Good’ respectively. Five put the boot in with just one star, which translates as ‘Terrible’ in that strange arena, however.

Closer inspection reveals the world of pain in which some amateur reviewers must live, with one protesting that the ketchup isn’t really made by Heinz despite being in that company’s familiar bottle, and that the tartare sauce is similarly bogus.

“It IS Heinz. Definitely. And the tartare sauce is home-made!” Lindsay explains, but she also knows there’s no point getting exasperated about the odd gripe, however ill-informed. She rolls her eyes at the memory: “Yes, we did have a laugh about that”, she adds.

Six days a week operation

So Maggie’s is in safe hands, I think. There have been changes, but they’ve been gradual. Slightly longer opening hours and a six-day-a-week operation, an expanded evening menu but keeping the focus on their traditional offer, and there’s even a website on the way.

Any plans to open another shop? Lindsay looks away for a moment and answers carefully: “I might do – I’m not ruling it out…”.


Posted 22:23 Sunday, Aug 28, 2016 In: Hastings People

1 Comment

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  1. Nick Leach

    A very informative piece and I will be sure to visit these premises when I next make the trip to Hastings. Thank you.

    Comment by Nick Leach — Monday, Aug 29, 2016 @ 11:50

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