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February 15, 2019

Italian restaurant owner in Falmouth finds 'luck of the Irish' in purchase of the Kerrymen Pub

Courtesy / Ron Stephan
Courtesy / Ron Stephan
Ron Stephan owns Ricetta's Brick Oven Ristorante in Falmouth and saw the Kerrymen Pub in Saco as an ideal second location for Ricetta's. He purchased the longtime Irish pub from Kerry Brothers Inc. on Jan. 4.

When the Kerrymen Pub in Saco went on the market six months ago, the structure, location, high-traffic count and excellent parking won the attention of a Falmouth restaurant owner who was looking to open a second location.

Kerry Brothers Inc. sold Kerrymen Pub's real estate and business assets, located at 512 Main St. and 5 Horton Ave. in Saco, to TLS Properties One LLC for $1.05 million. The front of the property faces Main Street and the back faces Horton Avenue.

Ed Herczeg of Bean Group Commercial represented both sides in the transaction, which closed Jan 4.

By all accounts, the Kerrymen was a popular pub, restaurant and events space. It was founded in 1978 by brothers John, Paul, David and Richard Kerry and their cousin Jimmy Sullivan. All five ran it, along with their children.

"But I was the one who ran it the least," John Kerry, who bought out shares in 2012, said with a laugh. "My wife, Linda, was the boss."

Rare Irish pub

Courtesy / Ron Stephan
Courtesy / Ron Stephan
The Kerrymen Pub is a Saco institution that saw everything from anniversary parties to famous politicians.

Forty years ago, the Kerrymen was one of the few Irish pubs in Maine, and possibly the only one in York County, Kerry said.

Kerry and his brothers grew up in Saco, where their father was chief of police and their mother was the local children's librarian. Forty years ago, he said, he traveled to Ireland and visited a number of pubs. When he returned, he designed and built what would become the Kerrymen.

But Kerry left pub operations to the rest of the family in order to focus on other aspects of his career. He's a former state senator and former CEO of Catholic Charities of Maine. He's served as director of Maine's Office of Energy Resources and the state's Office of Energy Independence and Security, director of policy for the New England Governors Conference and policy advisor to the Cardinal Archbishop of New York.

Today he runs John Kerry Energy Solutions LLC, an energy conservation consultant business with offices in New York City and Saco.

"The pub was always a wonderful love for me but never a full-time job," he said. Linda and their children Meghan, Ryan and Sean ran the operation (another child, Natasha, is a lawyer) until it closed last fall.

Home away

Courtesy / Kerry Family
Courtesy / Kerry Family
John Kerry and his wife, Linda, at Kerrymen's Pub before it closed last fall prior to being sold.

The restaurant grew to become the larger part of the business, he said. The downstairs restaurant and upstairs pub were "a home away from home for many people," he continued. "You'd have baptisms, wedding parties, funeral dinners, prenuptial dinners. Several people got married there."

It was also a stop for Irish singers, he said.

"Irish groups would come to New York or Boston and then they'd come Maine, almost like a vacation," he said. "We had a lot of local dance bands, too."

The pub held an annual Claddagh, a celebration of Irish culture with lively Irish music, he said. Super Bowl parties and St. Patrick's Day were popular. Many politicians came through, he said.

"We had John F. Kennedy Jr. come through, Maria Shriver, Ted Kennedy," he said. "We knew people like George Mitchell, Gov. John Baldacci, Gov. Joe Brennan, Bill Cohen, Susan Collins. A lot of public figures have been in our restaurant."

Reputation draws interest

Courtesy / Ron Stephan
Courtesy / Ron Stephan
Ron Stephan opened his Ricetta's Brick Oven Ristorante in Falmouth in 2000.

Given the business's history and family roots, Kerry hoped to find a Maine family to buy it and maintain some of the traditional feel, "full of laughter, love and a few tears," he said.

When he began marketing the property, Herczeg said, he considered its location and renown to be key. It drew considerable interest.

"So many people know about the Kerrymen Pub and its reputation," Herczeg continued. He heard from prospective buyers locally and from as far as Boston and New York. As it happened, Herczeg was also helping Ron Stephan look for a second location for Stephan's Falmouth restaurant, Ricetta's Brick Oven Ristorante.

"I had sent him information on another location," Herczeg said. "When the Kerrymen came on the market, I said, 'That will be great for you. It's on Route 1, there's a lot of traffic.'"

Stephan started cooking as a child, helping his mother with her catering business.

"I was in the kitchen with her rolling cordon bleu," he said.

He opened Ricetta's in South Portland in 1989. In 2000, he expanded to a second location in Falmouth. He closed the South Portland location in 2011.

Many Ricetta's dishes are family recipes, he said. Today, he runs day-to-day operations while his culinary team runs the kitchen. Stephan is also a senior manager leading the hospitality division at Spinglass Management Group LLC, a Portland consulting company.

Traditional vibe

Extensive renovations in Saco will begin shortly, he said. But, "We'll keep some of the Kerrymen vibe. We'll try to preserve the upstairs bar as is. They've been such a great institution within the Saco community that we want to carry on some of their traditions."

One tradition is the 5K Mary's Walk, established by Kerry in memory of his sister, Mary Kerry Libby, and others who have died from cancer. The walk starts and ends at the pub, raising money for cancer research.

"We signed up to be a major sponsor," said Stephan. "That's part of the Kerry tradition we wish to carry on."

Stephan expects to reopen by early summer, hiring about 45 people. Ricetta's long-time Falmouth manager, Brianna Whitehouse, will become general manager in Saco.

About a dozen Kerrymen employees have contacted him about employment.

"We love the community. It's a great location," he said. "There's much more tourism in Saco than in Falmouth. We think we'll do a robust business there."

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