A RESTAURANT chain has permanently closed its Blackburn town centre branch.

Frankie and Benny’s, Lower Audley Street, was closed on Monday morning and a sign in the window read: “This restaurant is now closed on a permanent basis.

“Apologies for any inconvenience caused. Your nearest restaurant is Preston Capitol Centre.”

Signage from the front of the Italian-American family restaurant had also been removed.

The past few years have proved tough for Frankie and Benny’s, as profits slumped.

In 2016 owners, The Restaurant Group announced it would be shutting 33 under-performing sites as part of a strategic review.

The company suffered a £22.5 million loss in the first half of that year, which was blamed on poor management and an unnecessary rise in menu prices.

And the store closures were said to have affected up to 1,000 jobs although, at the time, it was understood the company would redeploy the vast majority in other outlets.

Speaking about the closure of the Blackburn branch, a spokesman for The Restaurant Group said: “The casual dining market is facing various headwinds, such as increased property costs, which has impacted certain sites within our Leisure portfolio.

“In light of this backdrop, we have taken the difficult decision to close the Frankie and Benny’s site in Blackburn.

“We regret the impact on colleagues, and will ensure that they are supported throughout the process, as well as identifying opportunities for those wishing to remain in the business.

“Where possible, we have looked to redeploy staff to other sites within The Restaurant Group’s portfolio.”

The group also owns Chiquito, which was next door to Frankie and Benny's before Steakout took over the site in September 2018.

Frankie and Benny’s opened its first UK restaurant in Leicester in 1995.

The Blackburn branch opened in 2007 and, at the time, our restaurant critic gave it a glowing review.

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However, in November 2015 the chain was given the lowest rating in an assessment of the sustainability of its seafood products and, in 2017, staff in Warrington were forced to apologise after a girl, four, ended up in hospital when she was mistakenly served an alcoholic cocktail.

Other recent closures of town centre eateries include Gioia Italiano, Church Street, and Hugo's, Northgate.

The Blackburn branch, which employed 13 staff members, offically closed on April 2.