A POPULAR bar hailed as an integral part of the town centre’s Market Kitchen project has closed.

Cucina Sky Lounge, which has operated since October 2019, weathered the storms of the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis but served its final customer on Saturday night.

The Chronicle understands Market Kitchen’s other units successfully renewed their deals with the council but Cucina boss Alessandro Vergine blasted the negotiation process and said ‘unfair treatment’ had ensued due to its previous co-ownership.

He told the Chronicle: “We were integral in the concept and development of Market Kitchen and feel sad our tenure has ended in the manner in which it has.

“We served our first customer in October 2019 and shortly after in 2020 we faced the immense challenge which was the Covid pandemic and trading through near impossible restrictions and three stop-start lockdowns.

“We navigated those awful times, saved all our staff members’ jobs and came out the other end in 2021 still fighting to help keep the council’s Market Kitchen vibrant and relevant and we have succeeded to do so throughout 2022 and 2023.

“After four-and-a-half years of successful trading, building the Cucina brand, being a major footfall driver and cornerstone tenant in Market Kitchen, we thought we had a strong and positive relationship with Barnsley Council.

“However, we were given an abrupt 30 days to vacate so that our family-run business could be handed over to a new tenant.

“When we asked why we were being kicked out for no fault of our own, the council simply told us that ‘the new tenant has offered more rent’.

“To facilitate the need to maximise rents, the council used an unpopular leasing loophole that strips away a tenant’s right to security.

“The council had offered our business out to any interested parties and eventually gave it to the highest bidder with no regard to a local family who built the site up from scratch and managed to operate it and survive the hardest times in hospitality through Covid and cost-of-living crises.

“We exhausted every amicable avenue we could to try and keep our business and the council even refused to enter into negotiations with us to reach an increased rental agreement that would satisfy them and avoid this drastic situation.

“We would like to thank our loyal customers and our fellow market traders for an amazing four-and-a-half years of true support.”

A Barnsley Council spokesperson added: “The bar’s original four-year lease ended back in September 2023 - since then, Cucina Sky Lounge has continued to operate under a tenancy-at-will agreement, which ended on the mutually agreed date, June 16.

“We delivered a fair and transparent tender process where all businesses, including Cucina, were invited to apply for the new lease.

“As Market Kitchen is a thriving venue, we received several applications from local and regional businesses, and a new tenant has been successfully appointed in True North Brew Company.

“We have been working closely with both Cucina and True North to ensure a smooth transition, making sure that it’s business as usual for tenants and customers in Market Kitchen.

“We’d like to thank Cucina and all their staff for the last four years.

“We’re pleased at least one of the team has taken up the new tenant’s offer to retain all staff and will continue to work at the bar when it reopens.

“That tender process included a range of assessment criteria including the quality of the customer experience, pricing strategy and offering value for money to customers, and how they would work together with other vendors in Market Kitchen, the market and the Glass Works.”

* The full story will be in Friday’s Chronicle.