A COUPLE working around the clock to reopen their restaurant after lockdown have been devastated as a fire ripped through the business’ kitchen at the weekend.

The owners of Stalida Greek Taverna, on Hexham’s Battle Hill, Florin ‘Billy’ and Selena Truta, were gutted as a fire raged through the restaurant on Saturday, causing substantial damage to the interior of the building.

The restaurant was due to open on Wednesday after operating a takeaway only service during lockdown.

Selena said: “My husband had been up until 11 at night doing refurbishments for four weeks to get ready for reopening.

“The fire was uncontrollable, the kitchen is destroyed, there’s holes in the roof and a lot of smoke damage. The kitchen needs rebuilt.

“It’s quite heartbreaking, but we will be back and plan to not give up.”

The couple opened the restaurant in 2016, bringing the authentic taste of Greece to the Tyne Valley.

They began their culinary journey in Hexham with a takeaway van and then Billy Bites on Fore Street, having owned a successful restaurant in Crete for 10 years.

“We’ve had loads of support from the town and local businesses, the phone has not stopped going”, said Selena, who grew up in Stonehaugh.

“People have offered to help paint and with kitchen supplies.

“It feels like there is a community spirit, going through Covid and now this, it’s good to be in Hexham.

“We were so lucky - the fire brigade was there in minutes. It could have been a lot worse.”

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service confirmed that investigations were ongoing into the cause of the fire, which was attended by three appliances - one from Hexham, one from Prudhoe and one from West Denton.

A spokeswoman for Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service said: “The fire was in the first floor kitchen to the rear of the restaurant, no persons or injuries.”

Two members of staff were onsite at the time of the blaze.