Shock over the sudden closure of two eateries

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Two popular Alnwick businesses have closed suddenly, with the stunned owner of one admitting: ‘It couldn’t have come at a worse time’.

The Lunch Box, in Alnwick Market Place, unexpectedly shut on Tuesday after concerns about structural damage to the building. Twelve part-time staff have lost their jobs.

The Lunch Box, Alnwick, which is undergoing structual repairs

The Lunch Box, Alnwick, which is undergoing structual repairs

It came hot on the heels of the shock closure of The Art House last Thursday, which resulted in the loss of 15 full and part-time positions.

The restaurant closed its doors after owner Jon Smith forfeited the lease, following a proposed takeover of the building. It is unclear what the future will hold for the Bondgate Within venue.

And yesterday, Tom McKie, who runs The Lunch Box, admitted he didn’t know how long it would be shut for, but feared ‘it could be months rather than weeks’.

He said: “It is a shock and it will have an impact, having come at the start of summer. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. I don’t know what is happening; that is down to Northumberland County Council and my landlord.

“Twelve part-time staff have lost their jobs because of this, but I hope to reopen and take them back on because they are very loyal.”

The Gazette tried to contact Mr McKie’s landlord, Allan Kim, of the town’s Handi Stationery, but he was unavailable for comment.

A county council spokesman said: “We are in discussions with the owner of the building due to concerns about its condition, which in our opinion presents a risk to the public. Fencing has been put up around the building for public protection. We’ve been advised by the owner that arrangements to deal with the works are in hand.

“We regret any impact on The Lunch Box and Market Place, but this action is in the interests of public safety and we will monitor the situation.”

Staff devastated by restaurant closure

Staff were left devastated last week after being told they had lost their jobs, following a week of speculation.

Fifteen members of staff were called to The Art House restaurant in Bondgate Within, Alnwick, on Thursday, May 28, to be told their employment had been terminated.

One member of staff who was made redundant is heavily pregnant and returned from holiday to find she was now jobless.

She said she was ‘absolutely furious’ about the decision and would now have to take state maternity pay.

The news followed speculation on social media, claiming that the building in which the restaurant is a tenant, had been sold to a local businessman.

John Hope, who owns 10 Bondgate Within, home to Yan’s Cantonese Restaurant, told the Gazette that he was appoached by the current owners to purchase 12-14 Bondgate Within, but he is yet to take ownership.

He explained that he approached The Art House and estate agents Coast and Castle, which are in long-term let agreements in the building.

Explaining his decision to forfeit the lease, Art House owner Jon Smith said: “The building was sold in a very underhand manner to another local businessman and we do not feel comfortable as a business continuing to trade under these circumstances.

“It came as a very hard decision to walk away from the amount of hard work and dedication that everyone has put into the place and we would like to thank all of our loyal customers from over the years.”

Mr Hope said: “I was always aware that both premises were the subject of 10-year lease agreement which give the tenants complete security and I was happy with that as I considered this to be an investment and have no interest in running another business.

“On speaking to the tenant of the restaurant I found that he was having difficulty in meeting the terms of his lease. I cannot and will not go into more detail of this as it is a private matter between him and the current owners. However, in an attempt to assist because he had rented a lot of space he did not use, I suggested we draw up a new lease where he would give up this redundant space.”

Mr Hope said he offered a ‘rental reduction’ of around ‘25 per cent’ which could have seen a business rate reduction from the local authority, thus reducing costs. He also offered to improve the outside catering space later in the year with the option of parking spaces at the rear.

He said: “All of my dealings in this matter have been conducted professionally. Some of the comments I have read on social media are quite frankly generated by those who have no idea what they are talking about’.

Karen Parker, managing director of Coast and Castle, the tenant of 14 Bondgate Within, said that they were approached in the same manner and were ‘completely satisfied’ with the way things were handled.

Staff at The Art House were unhappy with the way they were told they had lost their jobs.

One said: “We were given envelopes explaining the situation and that we’d get the money we’re owed. The owners of the business didn’t come to speak to us and we were told that they were too busy. I was very shocked and I said: ‘I’m not being funny, I think out of courtesy you should have told us what was happening because I don’t think it’s right that we found out we’ve lost our jobs from Facebook.”