The owners of a well-known Ballycastle cafe have said a perfect storm of Covid, an increase in business expenses, and the rising cost of living has forced them to close after 12 years.
Stephen Boyle (45) owned The Bay Cafe on Bayview Road in the popular Co Antrim seaside town with his wife Teresa.
He said he has mixed feelings after the closure of the cafe on Thursday, forcing the redundancy of the couple and several staff members.
"Half of me is gutted and the other half is relieved that we've taken the decision to make this leap. It's a very tough decision to make and it's been on our minds for a while. We felt we had to do it for ourselves and for our mental health,” he said.
Covid has proven to be the nail in the coffin as the couple struggled to cope with a difficult economic climate, including a drop in requests for catering brought about by fewer gatherings.
"We had a reasonable summer but as soon as winter hit and new infections came in, everything just collapsed," said Mr Boyle.
A chef by trade, Mr Boyle said it was "depressing" to try and operate a successful cafe due to a reduction in customers because of Covid fears and space and ventilation issues.
"We had to reduce our tables by half and it was no more than six people at a table so we only had two tables available for that number due to our space. So that was a big contribution to the closure," he said.
"It was very heavy and hard work when you've got half the customers there. They were brilliant and very supportive but we don't have the same amount of footfall, it makes your day a lot harder and it's very depressing."
Meanwhile, an increase in the cost of living, which has been well-documented in recent months, also caused difficulties.
"Everything is going up – electricity, food prices have gone through the roof. Fresh food fluctuates in price and they have to make their money but there's only so much you can add onto the price of a fry before people start walking away," he said.
"In certain ways, Brexit has contributed. There are certain things you can't get any more, some soft drinks for example, but it was never so bad you couldn't put on a full menu."
Northern Ireland politicians could have done more for businesses like The Bay Cafe through faster decision-making, he said.
"They could have been more decisive a long time ago, definitely before Christmas, you hear lots of rumours and they dispel them. But they could have been firmer in their decisions – this is exactly what's going to happen, not what could be happening. That's put a lot of pressure on businesses," he said.
Covid scares have also affected the cafe and cost time and money to the owners as a result.
"If somebody sneezes, you panic and close everything and go home and get Covid tests and you've lost half your staff over nothing," he said.
Now, the couple are looking for jobs, with Mr Boyle having resolved to continue in the food industry, and have meanwhile had enquiries from others looking to take on the cafe.
"We'll support that business as much as we can and every other business in the community because they've always supported us. We've still got people ringing looking for fries," he said.
They've also been inundated with messages from those who are sad to see the cafe go.
"It's been non-stop all day, it's very welcome to get that kind of response," said Mr Boyle.