THE RESTAURANT where the much-loved dessert banoffi pie was invented shut its doors last weekend due to the economic downturn.
The Hungry Monk in Jevington closed after Sunday lunch on January 8 and the owner plans to turn the building into three holiday cottages before the summer.
Nigel Mackenzie bought the Hungry Monk with his wife when they were 23 in 1968.
It had been previously used as a tearoom, but the Mackenzie couple spent five months doing up the 16th century building, which didn’t even have a mains water supply.
The restaurant went from strength to strength.
It became the birthplace of banoffi pie in 1971, received a host of awards and was listed in the current Michelin guide.
Last year it was visited by Queen Sofia of Spain and the success of its menu also led to a series of Hungry Monk cookbooks being published.
Mr Mackenzie retired from the restaurant business around seven-and-a-half years ago and handed the reins over to long-standing member of staff Corinne Williams, and her husband Andrew.
The Williams couple also ran a very popular and successful restaurant, but rising costs forced them to close.
Mr Mackenzie said, “Things have just changed so much over the years and it is so difficult to run restaurants out in the country now.
“We used to have people driving down from London to eat in the Hungry Monk but now people won’t take a drive in to the country because they can’t afford the petrol.
“I think people’s habits have changed over the years too, with many people favouring gastro pubs.
“The cost of food and wine has also risen with the pound being weak against the euro and that is a cost you can’t pass on to customers because everyone is tightening their belts.
“It is very hard to run a restaurant.”
Mr Mackenzie said the gas bill at the Hungry Monk had risen from around £200 to £800 a month and the Williams couple were struggling to make ends meet.
He added, “It is a shame because the food was always wonderful.
“However, I think the staff, who have all been there for many years, are quite excited because they would never have left the Hungry Monk.”
Mr Mackenzie, who lives in Ripe, got planning permission agreed for two cottages in 2008 and he is hoping Wealden District Council will extend permission to include three properties.
The listed building will then be rented out to tourists.
He said, “There is a lot going on in this country this summer.
“There is the Olympics and the jubilee so I think it will be nice to have the offering of holiday cottages in Jevington, because it is a lovely area on the Downs.”