A FAMILY restaurant has been forced to close due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, it has been revealed.

ASK Italian on Rayleigh High Street will not reopen its doors to pizza-lovers, as bosses say they had to make some “incredibly difficult decisions” after the crisis hit the restaurant sector hard.

In July it was revealed that the Azzuri group, who own ASK Italian and fellow restaurant Zizzi, would close 75 of its branches across the UK.

And now the company is working to contact customers via email to inform them of the sad news.

A spokesperson from the restaurant, said: “The Covid-19 crisis has hit the restaurant sector hard and we’ve had to make some incredibly difficult decisions.

“It is with deep sadness that we confirm ASK Italian Rayleigh is now closed.

“We’d like to thank our guests for their regular custom and let them know ASK Italian Billericay is now their closest restaurant.”

Rayleigh Town Councillor Chris Stanley, said: “This news actually comes at quite a shock even in the current climate.

"I know ASK Italian had a great response when they first opened up. Even though there are a lot of these kinds of places on the high street, having a variety for an evening meal isn’t a bad thing.

“Usually it’s really busy and before the pandemic they were sitting pretty. I think a lot of residents will be disappointed to hear that it is closing.

“The fact that we still have to be two metres apart could have played a part in this – it limits the amount of customers you can let into the premises and means fewer diners can actually eat there.

“But when it’s been closed for such a long time and you can’t see an end to it, sadly this is what they’ve had to do. It’s such a shame.”

June Lumley. chairman of Rayleigh Town Council, added: “This is such a loss for the town. It leaves yet another vacancy in a large premises and it’s very sad for the staff.”

Looking to the future, Mr Stanley believes the high street could benefit from having a number of smaller establishments set up business along the strip.

He continued: “It is quite a big deal to take on running the restaurant at a time like this, these places do cost an awful lot to run.

“The site remained empty for a while when Woolworths went, I hope this doesn’t happen again.

"You never know, we might see something like Rayleigh Lanes in that area and it may be an idea to have several smaller shops open up there instead."