After a short respite, Bob and Tracy Davis return to their culinary roots and open the favorite local hot spot Sailor’s Return.
It’s not often that royalty is an influencing factor for settling in South Florida. But royalty was that factor for Bob Davis, specifically the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth II—the ships, at least. Named after prominent figures of British royalty, Davis served on those Cunard cruise lines ships for 27 years working his way up the ranks to restaurant management.
“I spent a year on a private yacht at 15,” Davis says. By age 16, the Southampton native had the qualifications to work on the passenger liners and left the shores of England behind. It was the combination of culinary experience and the sea that would eventually lead him to a second career in hospitality. Davis’ uncle settled in Fort Pierce after World War II, and Davis visited him regularly during his leave from the ships. It was on the Treasure Coast that he secured his very first land-based job at Indian River Plantation. It was also where he met his wife, Tracy, on a blind date.
In 1991, the couple bought the building, which would house the Jolly Sailor Pub in downtown Stuart. The restaurant served British pub classics to appreciative crowds for 12 years before closing its doors in 2003. The space was leased to Duffy’s Sports Grill, and Davis entered into a period of retirement.
These were quiet years, more so than those spent at sea. Davis drove the community coach bus to keep himself occupied and thoroughly enjoyed shuttling the county’s elderly citizens around town. “I loved it,” he laughs. “Kept me busy.” And then a call came that ensured the former restaurateur wouldn’t be bored for the foreseeable future.
In 2007, the Davises were approached with a partnership proposal to build and launch a business with local entrepreneur Wayne Huizenga. Huizenga agreed to build what would become the Sunset Bay Marina & Anchorage, and the Davises, naturally, would be responsible for the restaurant. The economy wasn’t what one would hope for at that time, but it was a deal too good to pass up.
“I had a gut feeling, it was the location,” Davis says. And that location—right on the St. Lucie River, next to the Roosevelt Bridge—helped turn the venture into a huge success right from the start.
The restaurant, aptly named Sailor’s Return, serves lunch and dinner under the careful direction of chef David van Stolk. Davis works the front of the house, while his wife keeps things running smoothly behind the scenes. The dishes are a mix of seafood, steaks and American cuisine, with a few British classics mixed in as a nod to the original Jolly Sailor Pub. General manager Michael Lamattina oversees the entire operation.
“We have the best crew in the world,” Davis says.
On weekends, crowds of happy patrons can be seen sipping drinks on the outdoor patio, entertained by a live band under the lights of the Roosevelt Bridge. It’s become a favorite amongst locals and visitors alike.
“We’ve been very lucky,” Davis says. A former sailor has found new life at the water’s edge.