RESTAURANT bosses have blamed Brexit for a decline in trade, forcing them to close their doors after nearly a decade of serving customers.

Sottovento Restaurant was first opened in Farnworth by Premier League referee Mark Halsey and wife Michelle in 2006, attracting famous football faces like Sam Allardyce in its time.

In 2010, as the international referee was battling a cancer diagnosis, the restaurant changed hands.

Hakan and Alison Sabat took over and ran the business successfully for more than nine years, but customers were shocked when the restaurant announced its sudden closure earlier this week.

Mr Sabat says that Brexit is the reason that Sottovento is shutting its doors.

He said: "The conditions changed after Brexit. People don't know what is happening with Brexit and it's a having an effect on business.

"There's so many products we get from Italy — flour, mozzarella — the prices have increased since Brexit. Two years ago, the price of a bag of mozzarella was £25, now it's £44.

"After Brexit, people didn't come as much anymore, people's circumstances changed."

Mr Sabat added that climbing business rates have also been a problem over the years.

He said: "My business rates have increased, it was £7,000 in 2010 and now it's £11,500."

The rising costs left Mr Sabat with no other option than to increase the price of his menu, damaging trade even more, he says.

"We used to be busy, but not anymore," said Mr Sabat. "We can't run the business without a profit. We had to make a decision."

Loyal fans were devastated to hear that the restaurant would be closing. One frequent diner, Natalie Berry, said: "It was such a lovely atmosphere, the food was delicious, the entertainment was brilliant and the staff were just lovely. It's such a shame, gutted!"

But the restaurant boss says that he is leaving with happy memories of almost a decade spent at Sottovento.

The restaurant is now under new ownership.

Muhammad Ali has taken over the spot and intends to transform the building into an Indian Restaurant.

He is aiming to open up his restaurant, Monal Bar and Grill, soon, saying: "We're now starting to change the signs and the decoration. Hopefully we will be open at the end of January."