A BAR owner who was ‘integral’ in the creation of the town centre’s Market Kitchen project has accused Barnsley Council of hypocrisy - after being ‘forced out due to greed’ in what he claims was an unfair tender process.

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.

Originally signed to a four-year lease, owner Alessandro Vergine had operated on a so-called tenancy-at-will agreement - effectively a week-to-week licence - but this ended ‘mutually’ last Saturday, according to the council.

Mr Vergine said he submitted a business plan for the popular bar - which turns over £1m a year - and an improved rent offer but was told to close as Sheffield-based True North Brew Co had won the tender process.

However, more controversy made its way into the situation this week as documents revealed the firm - which was known as TNBC Realisations - was only brought out of the financial mire and restarted under its new moniker last year having been plunged into administration, leading Mr Vergine to question the council’s due diligence checks.

He told the Chronicle: “I’ve had sleepless nights over this and it’s been dragged out for months - other units’ four-year leases had ended and were renewed all around us but we were left in limbo despite us constantly trying to get an answer.

“We were the only ones left without a long-term agreement.

“Our relationship with the council’s been a good one over the years and I was asked by Market Kitchen’s management team to look at what could be done to improve its initial design before it opened.

“We were essential in designing how it looks now and fundamental to its overall success.

“All I wanted was longevity - I’d heard more rent had been offered, so I offered more as well and even went 2.5 per cent above what had been agreed on with the new tenant.

“It felt like nothing was enough and I believe I’ve been pushed out due to politics.

“All of this chaos, ultimately destroying a family’s finances who had a young, loyal workforce of 20 valued staff members was done over £20,000 a year extra for the council.

“It’s mind-boggling to us and it feels like we’ve been strung along.”

According to Companies House documents, administrators for True North Brew Co - which reformed under its new name last August - reported a net deficit of £2.5m when they were called in, while £467,000 was owed to creditors.

All 20 of Cucina’s former staff members were offered jobs, according to True North bosses, but just one role was transferred over.

A spokesperson said: “We are thrilled to announce the opening of our new bar in the vibrant Market Kitchen at the Glass Works.

“Unexpectedly we have noticed some discussions on social media regarding the retention of the existing staff.

“Our goal was to retain all current employees, hence we worked with Cucina to invite everyone to a meeting to discuss the transfer of their roles.

“Unfortunately only one member of staff attended and we are pleased to announce they have been successfully appointed.

“Following this we opened up the remaining positions to new applicants via a recruitment evening.”

Barnsley Council hit back at Mr Vergine’s claims of an unfair tender process.

“The bar in Market Kitchen offers a great commercial opportunity and is a key part of the Glass Works’ offer,” a 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 Co.

“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.

“We carried out a thorough due diligence process and there are suitable safeguards within the tenancy agreement to protect the council.”