AN award-winning chocolatier and traditional tea room has shut up shop just days after Christmas.
Customers were dismayed to find Curiously Wicked in Sanderson Arcade was closed for business when they turned up on Saturday.
However, full assurances have been given that all gift vouchers bought for the outlet will be refunded.
The Herald understands that 23 people were employed at the business.
A statement on the Curiously Wicked Facebook page reads: “Curiously Wicked was closed on Friday due to unforeseen circumstances, but is looking to re-locate.
“Despite what some people have been posting, we did not know this was happening.
“We knew we were to close on 31st of this month and that was as far as our understanding went.
“Any vouchers that have been purchased are more than welcome to be re-funded and we are extremely sorry for any inconvenience caused.”
A later post, addressed to ‘dearest friends’, reads: “Currently we feel lost. Every day for the past two years has been spent making wonderful things for you and we have loved every moment of both doing our job and working with each other.
“Above all, it has been our customers who have kept us going. You have made us and we thank you from the bottom of our deep and big hearts.
“Without you, we would be nothing – you are Curiously Wicked.”
Owner Krystyna Dodds said she is unable to comment on the situation behind the closure at this time.
However, she urged customers to get in touch about voucher refunds.
“Please refer to our website or our Facebook page regarding any refunds for gift vouchers you may have bought.
“Refunds will be given in full and without question and we are extremely grateful for your patience during what is a very difficult time for all of us,” she said.
Curiously Wicked originally opened in the arcade in November 2011 following the family business’ success at North East farmers’ markets.
It sold chocolates, cakes and desserts and was the first chocolatier in the country to become a full member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen. It also won an award from the Academy of Chocolate.
In autumn 2012, an Edwardian-style tea room was created above the shop in an £180,000 transformation of the first floor by Sanderson Arcade developer Dransfield Properties.
It was based on the fictional Cuwick Manor, with oak-panelled walls, window seats, chandeliers and period furniture, while staff wore traditional costumes and addressed customers as sir or madam.
The tea room was officially opened by the Duchess of Northumberland on the first anniversary of the chocolate shop’s opening.
It is now planned that the tea room will re-open under new management.
Dransfield Properties spokeswoman Amanda Holmes said: “Since November 2012, we have invested a great deal of time, money and assistance to help support Curiously Wicked at Sanderson Arcade. Unfortunately, the owners have been unable to make their business a success and it is with regret that the shop and tea room have had to close.
“We look forward to making an announcement shortly about a new enterprise keen to take up this opportunity at the arcade.”
She added: “Sanderson Arcade has enjoyed its strongest Christmas trade since the centre opened in 2009 and footfall is up by more than ten per cent compared to last year.
“The team at the arcade is looking forward to another busy year in 2014, working with our great independent businesses, as well as the high street names that our shoppers love.”