Two restaurateurs tasked with transforming a much-loved North East heritage site have spoken of their excitement at the ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity.

Ben Wall and Neil Bassett have officially been handed the keys to the historic Bay Shelter on Seaburn’s Lower Promenade, as they look to bring a ‘high-end’ seafood restaurant to the city.

The duo, who are also partners in Sunderland’s Mexico 70, The Little Shop and The Ship Isis, applied to take over the shelter last year and – following a competitive tender process – were chosen by Sunderland City Council to breathe new life into the historic site.

Serving up an array of seafood dishes inspired by cuisines across the globe, the menu will be made up of small and seasonal plates comprising sustainable, locally sourced produce that can be washed down with a range of natural wines and craft beers.

Sunderland born and raised, both Ben and Neil are passionate advocates of the city and were delighted when we were selected for this opportunity to take on the shelter, hailing it as an opportunity that was ‘too good to be true’.

Ben said: “We knew as soon as we saw the shelter hit the market that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“I mean, how many restaurants are there in the North East where you can step out of the door and immediately be leaving footprints in the sand?

“It’s location, being tucked away next to the shoreline, also means we can offer a real authentic experience, which is something we’ve taken great pride in in the past.

“From our work on The Ship Isis, one of the oldest pubs in the city, to the launch of Mexico 70 in the Culture Quarter, we’ve always preferred venues with character so taking on the Bay Shelter was an absolute no brainer.

“Our vision is to create an all-day seafront restaurant, showcasing contemporary dining in a stunning but unstuffy and unpretentious relaxed environment and we can’t wait to get started.”

The regeneration of the Bay Shelter has been supported by the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund (CCF) which, alongside funding from Sunderland City Council, is helping breathe new life into a series of heritage buildings at Roker and Seaburn.

Lease income generated from the buildings will also be used to support the Sunderland Seafront Trust, which operates the Roker Pier and Lighthouse tours and help it to broaden its activities.

Neil added: “We know – due to the history and uniqueness of its location – that we have a responsibility to do this well for Sunderland and we’ll certainly give it our all to ensure we do just that as we have a huge love for the city.

“When we opened Mexico 70, a lot of people asked us why we didn’t open in Newcastle. Our response to that was, why not Sunderland?

“We have everything here we need. Amazing people, a thriving independent scene and a seafront to rival anywhere in the country.

“Add to that the city’s rich fishing and maritime heritage and we are confident that we can deliver something truly unique for Sunderland that will attract people from across the region.”

The pair are currently in the process of fitting out the unit following the completion of infrastructure works by Sunderland City Council, with plans to open in February 2022, creating 10-12 jobs.

Ben added: “As well as using local suppliers throughout our menu, we have also made a commitment to use local suppliers during the entire fit-out process.

“From interior design specialist Studio 1, who also worked on The Engine Room at The Fire Station to our kitchen from Up North and the electrics by JP Electrical, we’re ensuring as much of the Sunderland pound is spent in Sunderland as possible.”

The new restaurant will form part of Sunderland City Council’s ongoing investment drive along Roker and Seaburn seafronts, and across the wider city.

The council has spent more than £10m on seafront regeneration and improvements over recent years, with award-winning environmental and street-scene enhancements.

This has helped attract developments such as at Seaburn Stack, the Seaburn Inn and brought new businesses to Marine Walk.

Cllr Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “From the regeneration of High Street West and the Elephant Tea Rooms to the ongoing of the heritage buildings at Roker and Seaburn, we are committed to ensuring that – wherever possible – we preserve and enhance our most cherished buildings, and it’s fantastic to have Ben and Neil really buying into this vision.

“Through their work at The Ship Isis and Mexico 70, as well as countless other business ventures, they’ve proved not only how passionate they are about doing business in the city, but also improving the city’s cultural offering, and we are confident that their latest venture will prove to be another huge hit.”