I read in an article recently that Shepherd Neame are putting the Saracen’s Head on the Market.
My early years were spent in College Road just yards from the Sarrys. The pub was used by my Parents, grandparents and great grandparents, so it has been a part of my family history for generations.
Learning The Trade
Another lovely Deal pub is the Deal Hoy, and it is where I started in the pub game. As a tenant it gave me the opportunity to learn how to run a small business. One day a brewery rep asked me if I was interested in the Saracen’s Head; I laughed at him. ‘Have you seen the rent they want?’ obviously he had, ‘Do you know how much trade it’s doing?’ he had a good idea. What shocked me was he seemed genuinely surprised at my response. By then I had gained enough experience to see past the great little local I had grown up with. They were asking me to build up a struggling business shackled by high rent and the odious wet tie.
Let me explain how tied pubs work. You sign the lease under the agreement that all or some of your wet stock will be purchased through the brewery or pub company. Many, myself included are quite naive at this point, and can see the logic behind a brewery wanting to sell their beer in a pub they own. However, because of this agreement it means they can charge what they want, and they want a lot. It also limits what you can offer the customer. For three and a half years I ordered the same beer week in week out, and paid over the odds for it. When I eventually compared brewery prices with free trade prices I found the cost of the wet tie almost equaled what I was paying in rent. So I left.
Free Trade Versus the Tied Model
Six months later I opened a micropub called the Freed Man (you can probably guess why) and never looked back. I now have access to over thirty Kent breweries, and over 1300 breweries in the rest of England. This means I can respond to customer requests without charging the Earth.
The reason the Sarry’s is deemed uneconomical by Shepherd Neame is not just the factors stated in the article, though they are valid points. It’s because they take too much out of it, and leave scraps for the hard working, often disillusioned tenants. One issue was it’s too far away from the seafront and the High Street. To the North are hundreds of Chimney pots, those people walk past the Sarry’s to go to town, why don’t they stop? It’s not the fault of the landlord and landlady, I know they would have put heart and soul into it. A major problem is it belongs to Shepherd Neame. I don’t go in the Sarry’s because they will be selling the same selection of overpriced beer they were selling two, five, ten years ago. I, and others want variety, quality, and a fair price.
I hope the Saracen’s Head survives as a pub. If anybody reading this is thinking about buying the Sarry’s then I will help and advise in every way I can. The Saracens Head is a part of the history of North Deal, it’s part of my history, and many others. It is a valuable community asset. In the right hands, run as a free house it is a viable concern.
I’ll leave you with this. The Magnet closed , the Telegraph converted to flats, the Railway Hotel demolished; all three gone since I opened the Freed Man. There are many challenges facing the pub sector at the moment, but pub owning breweries and the pub companies need to shoulder a significant part of the blame themselves.