The owners of a building where a café suddenly closed have vowed not to let it sit empty - or worse be filled by yet another “soulless franchise” or bubble tea shop.
For 20 years the eatery in Castle Street, Canterbury was home to the well-loved Saffron Café until last week when it was forced to shut after facing financial hardship.
But sisters Julie Dod, 48 and Suzanne Folkard, 50, who own the building, say they were just as shocked as many long-time customers to find the venue closed.
Saffron Café was opened by Fouad Hassini in 2000, but the business is currently in receivership after the owner filed for bankruptcy on November 3.
Now the pair, whose mum ran a café on the site in the 1980s, want to keep the site's legacy alive by making sure a community-focused new tenant moves in.
Julie, who also owns the boutique hotel on site, Number 8, said: “We are very sad to see the departure of Mr Hassini. We were not informed of the situation, I only found out on my way to the Marlowe that Saturday night when I saw the sign.
“We had a panic, then a big think, and a lot of tea. We've been talking to various local eateries, bakeries, pubs, the council and charities.
“Obviously it's a bit tricky so close to Christmas, we're both working mums and crazy busy already, and we don't know when we'll gain access to the premises.”
She continued: “We hope we've come up with a plan which will be positive for the neighbourhood, not another bubble tea room.
“We hope to run a community cafe along the lines of what was there before, with reasonable home-cooked food served by friendly faces.
“But we want to do more; we own the hotel above and both work full time, so for us it's not about making more money, it's about being proud of the building and helping retain, or regain, the atmosphere in the street.
“Our mum used to run the cafe in the 80s, it's very much part of our history so we want to do the right thing.
“We want you to know we're on the case and do not intend to let the building stay empty for long or become some soulless franchise.”
Loyal customers of Saffron Café, which was known for its breakfasts and burgers, were devastated to hear of the closure.
Taking to social media following the announcement by Saffron Cafe, one commenter said: “A sad day recently - the demise of the Saffron Café. So many fantastic meals and looked after by such lovely people.
“All the best to Fouad, Carina and all the others over the last 20 years of going there.”
Another added: “I can’t believe it, totally shocked. Absolutely tragic - great fresh lunches and such friendly, caring staff.
One social media user simply said: “A sad day indeed.
“They have been wonderful to their customers and have been my 'go to' cafe for the last 18 years.
“Marvellous, heartwarming food and always a kindly welcome.”
The restaurant in Castle Street had more than 100 excellent reviews on TripAdvisor.
Reviewers on the platform praised the restaurant for its “absolutely delicious food at a reasonable price” and others described it as a hidden gem.
In the run-up to Christmas, Julie and Suzanne are hoping to get a festive shop up and running with the aim of raising money for local homelessness charity, Catching Lives.
If they can pull it off, the store will promote the work of local artists and sell items made at Catching Lives.
But Julie says it depends on whether they can get the keys to the property from the receiver in time.
Longer term, the sisters hope to set up a CIC to open a community café serving quick lunches, tackling loneliness and helping vulnerable people gain work experience.
Before the site was home to Saffron Café it was home to Castle Court coffee lounge, then a tapas bar and then Blackbird Catering.
The 48-year-old said she hoped that the new community-focused café could breathe some life back into that part of the city, adding that the sight of Castle Street currently “brings her to tears.”
KentOnline has been attempting to contact Saffron Café for further comment.