Beckenham couple’s deli-cious idea leads to dream job

PUBLISHED: 09:20 16 November 2012

Gary and Sarah

Gary and Sarah


Have you ever considered swapping office life for the good life? Computer screens for fresh vegetables and dull meetings for homemade jams?

Holwood FarmHolwood Farm

Beckenham couple, Gary and Sarah Mercer, did exactly that three years ago when they quit their jobs in IT to convert a derelict barn into their ideal deli.

Holwood Farm in New Road Hill, Keston, is a labour of love for the pair that is stocked to the brim with locally-sourced meats, cheeses and jams.

A successful software developer, Gary, 47, set up his own software company in 1996 with a friend. He later sold it to an American company, staying on as head of international development.

“I left that business behind because I would have had to move to America to progress,” Gary said.

Gary and Sarah Mercer before work started on the barn.Gary and Sarah Mercer before work started on the barn.

“Sarah and I had been talking about setting up our business for about six or seven years and we had a family friend who ran a deli in Tunbridge Wells.

“I became their Saturday boy while I was still doing international development at my old job and fell in love with it. Though I was quite scared someone from my day job would come in and recognise me.”

Intent on pursuing a new career based around their love of food, the pair searched for high street properties with little luck before Sarah, 49, discovered Holwood Farm.

Infested with pigeons and rats, the barn had fallen into a sorry state over the five years it was on the market and took two years to renovate.

With the help of their two sons, Jack, 15, and Oliver, 18, the store opened for business last month and had its official opening recently.

Gary said: “We are really pleased with the support we have had. People coming in have been wowed by the place and have been really kind with their feedback.

“We do make a real effort to find as much stock as we can locally. All our fruit and vegetables are local and a lot of our cheeses are too – ones you can’t find anywhere else.

“We also have local apple and pear juices, jams, pickles. Even our coffee comes from a guy in Dorking – there’s a local element to everything.”

Leaving her job working for the British Museum’s IT department, Sarah has also stepped away from life in front of a computer and is enjoying what Gary calls “a complete diversion”.

Though long hours mean the pair often find themselves asleep in front of the television, the buzz of owning their dream business is yet to fade.

Gary added: “It’s quite a contradiction. We’re tied to the shop because it’s open six day a week, but it’s also quite liberating.

“We were a little worried about working together, as any married couple would be, but it’s big enough that we don’t constantly tread on each other’s toes.”

Open in time for the Christmas rush, the deli will stock a number of hampers aimed to put a festive spin on anything from breakfast to after-dinner snacks.

Baskets containing anything from breakfast bowls with porridge to truffles and coffee will range from £15 to £150.

Gary said: “Sarah and I both love to cook, as do our boys, so some of our hampers will be designed for people who share our love of good food. It’s really exciting.”

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