A SALON turned cafe is giving its customers a taste of la dolce vita with its new venture.

After being forced to close during lockdown, skincare specialist Leila Ghanadi-Proctor, who runs Twelve Central in Middleton St George, near Darlington, with her husband and hairdresser Alan Proctor, decided to expand and is now operating the Italian-inspired cafe seven days a week.

After starting as a takeaway coffee shop in May, the couple have decided to commit to developing Cafe Italissimo alongside their beauty businesses, creating a number of jobs.

The salon, which is in the village’s old co-op building, has been transformed to create space for both businesses, and has given its outside space a stylish makeover to give customers a choice in where to sit.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Mrs Ghanadi-Proctor, who has also seen her teaching work as a skin care expert stop during the pandemic, said: “During lockdown we couldn’t see our customers and our clients and we were really missing people.

“We’ve always done a really nice Italian coffee for our customers so I thought why not open and serve it as a takeaway.

“I think it really lifted our customers. People were so fed-up with lockdown and it was somewhere to come and get a coffee because there wasn’t anywhere else in the village.

“Everyone has said it is a really great asset for Middleton St George because there isn’t a coffee shop.”

On Saturday, a selection of Lambretta scooters owned by members of O'Malley's scooter club were displayed outside the cafe by customers who were keen to make the most of the cafe’s Italian inspiration.

As well as coffee, the cafe is selling cakes from Sicily and Milan, as well as sandwiches and other light bites during the day.

It also has a deli stocking authentic Italian products and Mrs Ghanadi-Proctor is planning to start giving out recipe cards to help give customers a helping hand in creating their own Mediterranean meals.

She added: “I just love Italian food, and the country and travelling and culture.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

“I like cooking as well and I’ve always been interested in food and the connection between nutrition and skin care.”

She may also consider employing a chef in the future.

“We want to perfect what we are doing now before we move too quickly,” she added. “We don’t want to make mistakes.

“We want everyone to be 100 per cent.”

The venture has so far created five jobs, including two full time and three part time positions.

Mrs Ghanadi-Proctor said: "We’ve been really worried as business owners. The beauty industry is a bit funny because people are still worried about being in such close contact.

“But with what was a really horrible time I feel like we’ve managed to turn a negative into a positive.

“It’s just been great to have something positive come from covid.

“It’s been hard work doing it seven days a week but it kept me and Alan busy during the lockdown.”