Following the controversial closure of Middle Beach cafe in Studland by the National Trust, a new venture has been set up in the nearby car park called the Sandy Salt Pig.
The new cafe is part of The Salt Pig brand founded by local resident James Warren, who says the food outlet will offer Purbeck produced food at affordable prices, served up with a stunning view of Studland Bay in Dorset.
Staff at the new Sandy Salt Pig in Studland set up for the official opening
Middle Beach cafe earmarked for demolition
The much loved Middle Beach cafe, which had been operating for 70 years on the same site, closed down permanently on Monday 2nd January 2023, with the loss of up to 12 staff.
It’s now earmarked for demolition due to a government policy of not renewing sea defences in this area which the National Trust is obliged to implement. This means the old building will eventually succumb to coastal erosion accelerated by climate change.
The new food outlet, which opened for the first time on Saturday 28th January 2023, is set back from the coastline and further away from the beach but still has a great sea view.
The old Middle Beach Cafe is now earmarked for demolition
Serving the best locally produced foods
James Warren, a one-time Purbeck shepherd, launched a restaurant in Wareham in 2010 setting out to serve the best locally produced foods.
After the success of The Salt Pig in Wareham, The Salt Pig Too followed in Swanage eight years later, then The Secret Salt Pig, a smaller cafe at Carey’s Secret Garden near Wareham, and a pop-up cafe at the forgotten village of Tyneham – aptly called The Forgotten Salt Pig.
Now The Sandy Salt Pig, from an environmentally friendly food trailer, aims to continue the company’s mission of embracing and sharing truly local food.
It says that all of its beef, pork, lamb, venison, game and seafood comes from local farmers and fishermen within eight miles of its businesses and all with the highest levels of stewardship.
The Sandy Salt Pig team are confident that with its policy of employing Purbeck people and extra summer staff from Studland, it can overcome the objections raised to the closure of the Middle Beach Cafe.
The menu is set to grow in the months ahead – but it will all be local and top quality
“All we do is local food from trusted farmers”
“People do get into catering to make money, which is understandable, but in tourist areas it can often become a case of how cheaply a burger can be bought in to make the maximum profit.
“That is the complete opposite of what we are about. All we do is local food, from trusted farmers and fishermen.
“I am super excited to work with the National Trust and show them what I believe in, that local places should sell local food – not just because it’s local, but because it’s really good.
“We are incredibly lucky in Purbeck, we have a huge area of conservation grazing for cattle and sheep, the biggest population of deer in Europe, fantastic seafood – and yet most of it just disappears out of the area into the general food chain.
“Our philosophy is incredibly well aligned with the National Trust, and I hope I can give them confidence that customers will always respond well to the ideals of sustainability when they are applied to food.”
View from the new site, with the former Middle Beach Cafe on a lower level closer to the sea
National policy of managed coastal retreat
The closure of Middle Beach cafe in early January 2023 caused a lot of upset among locals and visitors who were very fond of the charm of the former boathouse building.
The National Trust decision not to renew the lease was blamed on climate change after it said rising levels of rainfall and coastal erosion made the ledge on which the cafe stood become increasingly unstable.
In 2016 a campaign to save it, including a petition which raised 3,000 signatures, was launched by the local Studland community who objected to the Government’s national policy of not renewing sea defences and allowing nature to take its course.
The National Trust submitted a planning application in 2022 for the replacement cafe to be sited at the top of the cliff in the car park, next to the picnic area looking out towards Old Harry Rocks.
Permission is expected to be granted in February 2023, and until then the new Sandy Salt Pig will open making use of 28 ‘grace days’ allowing a temporary change of land use while waiting for official authorisation.
Salt Pig staff Tia and Simon ready for customers behind the counter in Studland
Delighted that The Sandy Salt Pig is open
Tracey Churcher, National Trust general manager for the Isle of Purbeck, said:
“We are delighted that The Sandy Salt Pig is open for visitors and able to offer refreshments and local produce from Saturday 28th January, 2023.
“This is a temporary arrangement and is possible under permitted development rights which enable change of use of land for temporary purposes whilst we await the decision on the planning application, which is at an advanced stage with Dorset Council.”
The Sandy Salt Pig will open from 9 am until 4 pm every day of the week, but is looking to extend opening hours in summer and expects to employ local people in the same way that the former Middle Beach Cafe did.
Hammocks are already in place and sun loungers, sails and more seating will follow
Plans for beach huts and blankets in winter
The Salt Pig company already employs nearly 50 people and expects to see the number grow with the expansion into Studland.
Its outdoor seating area will include hammocks, benches, sun loungers and sails to provide shade in summer, all to make the most of the unique views across Studland Bay.
There are also plans to introduce hand warmers, beach huts and blankets for winter when sitting outside might otherwise be too cold.
Business picks up as word of mouth spreads on opening day
Plans to send Purbeck meat out by mail order
James has always believed in being accessible to the public, from the days that he was advised against opening his Wareham restaurant on Sundays because the town was quiet.
Within six months, Sundays had become his second busiest day of the week and James said:
“There was no-one around because no-one was open, and if you are open, people will come, so we use that principle all the time now, including staying open longer than anyone else.
“You can’t complain about people going to the supermarket if you are shut and they are open. If there’s enough demand to cover costs, we will stay open.”
The Salt Pig is looking to start sending meat out by mail order, which London families with holiday homes in Purbeck have requested – which should help to keep up demand for produce from local farmers who believe in the highest levels of husbandry for their animals.
There is still a lot of confusion over the meaning of ‘locally produced’ food, which is generally held to come from within a 40-mile radius, but The Salt Pig tries to keep the figure down to just eight miles – essentially, Purbeck producing food for Purbeck.
The Salt Pig boss James Warren at the opening of his company’s newest venture
“Part of our food culture has gone wrong”
“That is part of our food culture which has gone wrong – we don’t have that connection to local food, or even understand what ‘local’ truly is.
“The best fish you will ever eat is the mackerel you catch on holiday, not because it is actually the best but because of the input you have had into catching it and preparing it – that’s what makes it taste better.
“And you can do that with every meal; whether it is the eggs that you gather from your own chickens in the back garden, or whether you grow your own carrots or just grow herbs on the kitchen windowsill, it doesn’t matter, that level of input helps you enjoy the meal more.
“If you can combine that with quality family time, it is a winner for your mental health, physical health, and general wellbeing.
“It does mean spending more sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be an awful lot more. I take everything to the abattoir, bring it back, we have our own butchers, we cut out middlemen in the process allowing us to use a better grade product while giving a farmer a premium for that.
“We can put better produce on the plate for the same price that other people are putting lesser quality food for and customers can tell the difference and will keep coming back.”