THE owner of a popular cafe is planning to expand his business across the North-East despite suffering a slump in trade.

Les Mooney, who runs Cafe Gulp, in Priestgate, Darlington, plans to open an outlet in Durham City early next year, creating 15 jobs.

Mr Mooney hopes to build up a a chain of about five cafes with Internet access in the region during the next few years.

He is planning to secure the Durham site soon, and believes the cafe will be popular with students and tourists.

"Durham has a great student base, who will use the Internet facilities," he said.

"In Durham, we will also be working more on the liquor side of things in the evening, which we have struggled to develop in Darlington because of the lack of parking near the site."

Mr Mooney, from Darlington, said the company had not escaped the effects of the downturn in consumer spending in the high street, with annual turnover holding at about £200,000.

The closure of the Crown Street car park for development has also affected Cafe Gulp's passing trade.

"Saturday is now our quietest day. It has been a difficult trading year for us. Our profits have gone down, while our overheads have gone up. Some of the costs have had to be met by the customer because we are not doing the volume we did last year," he said.

"However, I think we have got through the worst of it and when the car park reopens, it should get back to normal."

Mr Mooney has decided to sell his Circus bar and brasserie business in Darlington market place to release funds for the expansion of Cafe Gulp.

"Once I have got the Durham site going, I would like to develop a chain of about five cafes across the North-East. I have been looking at Yarm, Carlisle and perhaps Middlesbrough," he said.

"I almost had a place in Harrogate last year, but that fell through because I didn't get the site. I would go anywhere in a 60 or 70-mile radius as long as the location is right."