The Belle Epoque in the Cheshire town of Knutsford has closed after 46 years trading following a long-running dispute with the local council.
The family-run business, which was first opened by Malcolm Mooney in partnership with footballer George Best in 1973, entered a CVA in February 2019 and has now agreed with Knutsford Town Council to forfeit the lease.
Current owner Matthew Mooney had become so incensed with the council that he hung banners from the nearby Gaskell Memorial Tower with messages including: “Destroying independent businesses – Knutsford Town Council – wasting tax payers money – Knutsford Town Council” and “Au revoir from Belle Epoque and merci beaucoup to our wonderful customers”.
He told The Caterer: “Trading on the UK high street is tough at the moment and, like many other far larger retail businesses, we entered into a CVA in February 2019, fully supported by HMRC.
“Our landlord, the council, despite not being financially affected in any way, chose to exploit a clause in our lease to take court proceedings against us and evict us from our King Street premises. We want to make it quite clear that our landlord was not asked to reduce the rent and that there are absolutely no rent arrears.”
He added that a formal complaint had been made to Cheshire East regarding Knutsford Town Council’s repossession of the property.
Knutsford Town Council said that the closure “marked the end of four challenging years between the council as landlord and La Belle Epoque Limited as tenant, which had included the non-payment of rent, unauthorised alterations and frustration of essential repairs”.
It added: “Notwithstanding the message, the council was extremely disappointed that La Belle Epoque put the public at risk by hanging two banners off the Gaskell Memorial Tower on Friday afternoon. When the banners were removed it was apparent that the wood used to weight the banners was close to falling off and down onto King Street.”
The feud with the council had meant the restaurant has closed with the same fanfare as its opening in the 1970s, when Malcolm Mooney went into business with George Best during his footballing heyday.
Malcolm was killed in a car crash six months later, but it was taken on by his twin brother Keith, who ran it with his wife until 1998 when he was forced to step back due to ill health. His son, the current owner, then took it on, working with his mother to reinvigorate the business.
Matthew Mooney told The Caterer in 2013: “The customer base is so incredibly loyal here that it was easy to lift things up a few years by getting the enthusiasm and passion back. Many customers would tug me on the arm and tell me how much they liked what we were doing.”
Addressing the closure of the business, Mooney said that he was making a claim against Knutsford Town Council that was due to be heard in the Crown Court later this year.
He added: “We are deeply saddened and frustrated by these events and would like to thank the huge number of customers, suppliers, and staff who contributed to our iconic business for over four decades, all of which have been amazing in their support.”
The Belle Epoque was the winner of the Catey Award for the Best Independent Marketing Campaign in 1988.