A VEGAN restaurant has been “forced out” and liquidated after “landlords wanted meat, fish and diary to be served from the site”. 

Offbeet, a restaurant and cookery school in Lyndhurst Road, Christchurch, said 12 staff have been left jobless after a dispute with The Retreat New Forest, the on-site host of classes and events. 

Peter Axworthy, Offbeet’s owner, said he was “shocked” when he was told in a meeting with the estate’s bosses that he would have to leave the site months before the lease was due to expire.

Bournemouth Echo: Cooking schoolCooking school (Image: Offbeet)

Mr Axworthy said: “There were so many tears, we’ve had a member of staff off while in hospital so for her to gain employment is very difficult. 

“Another had just taken a tenancy for a house. We pride ourselves on the way we treat our staff and we pay them fairly.”

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Peter said The Retreat had agreed to write off the remaining £5,000 of a £18,000 debt which, could be repaid at a later date in stages. 

But what happened next shocked Peter. 

“I was called to a meeting with The Retreat manager and estate manager and I had major anxiety because I knew something was going on,” he said.

Bournemouth Echo: Offbeet's site in The Retreat groundsOffbeet's site in The Retreat grounds (Image: Google Maps)

“They told me they want me to go this week – this was crazy; what about the staff who will all be out of a job?

“We invested £50-60,000 in this business, we slept here during Covid as we set it up. They couldn’t care less.

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“They were very pushy and told us I either walk away and they write off the debt or they would issue statutory demands and winding-up petitions, which is an aggressive way of closing a business down.

“I couldn’t believe it.”

The businessman is now focusing on his other Offbeet restaurant in Southsea for the time being.

Bournemouth Echo: The RetreatThe Retreat (Image: Google Maps)

He added: “For me, this is nothing about veganism. It’s about rich estates and landowners being bullish without any regard for the working class or staff who are now jobless and potentially face losing their homes.” 

Gen Preece, a health industry worker who is good friends with Offbeet boss Peter Axworthy, said: “It’s bad enough for businesses already, but I think this is a massive miscommunication. 

“I know they will bounce back, they’re survivors, but I find it so sad that somebody could do this to them.” 

The Daily Echo has approached The Retreat for a comment multiple times  but has not received any response. 

In a statement online, The Retreat said: “We would like to thank their staff and wish them the best of luck in their future.”