AFTER achieving his dream of creating an award-winning restaurant with an enviable reputation, Ramsons founder Chris Johnson is ready for a complete change of pace.

And he is handing over the reins to head chef and protege Lu Varley to continue the vision he and his late wife, Ros, had for the popular Italian restaurant in Ramsbottom.

Ramsons opened in 1985 when Newcastle theatre director Chris and Ros wanted a new challenge and bought The Village, in Market Place.

Chris ran the business and front-of-house, while the kitchen was Ros’s domain.

Chris said: “It was the ideal place to run a restaurant because there were five-to-six million people all within an hour’s drive and it was people who would read the Good Food Guide and the like.

“The first four weeks were horrendous but then we had an amazing onslaught of people coming in.”

They scooped dozens of awards, including North of England Newcomer of the Year in The Which? Good Food Guide’in 1986.

In 1995, Henrietta Green’s Food Lovers Guide named it Britain’s Best Food Shop.

Ros’s health began to suffer and Abdulla Naseem was brought in as head chef.

The awards continued when Ramsons scooped the Good Food Guide Reader’s Restaurant of the Year Award in 2008 and Chris’s wine list was named Wine List of the Year in the 2011 Good Food Guide.

In 2012, head chef “Naz” moved on, and Lu moved up from the Hideaway restaurant to take charge.

But the restaurant was struck by a double tragedy when Lu’s partner and fellow chef Farhad Ghassemi was attacked outside the restaurant and left fighting for his life.

Three days later, the restaurant was rocked by Ros’s death.

Farhad began a slow recovery and is now back at work, and Lu’s talents in the kitchen have not gone unnoticed.

She received praise in the 2014 Good Food Guide as well as the Harden’s restaurant guide which said she cooks “exceptionally well”.

But Chris said that Ros’s illness and passing had a huge affect on the business and now he feels that the time is right to move on.

At the age of 71, has given the restaurant to Lu and will enjoy his retirement on an organic farm in Lancashire.

Chris said: “I want Lu to be Ros’s absolute successor in every sense of the word. They both cook by sense of smell and sense of taste.”

Lu, who was head chef and a director, is now chef/proprietor.

She said: “I am so grateful to Chris and Ros for the opportunity they have given me.

“We have had some bad times but we have come through it.”

With Chris’s blessing, Lu is going to put her own stamp on the restaurant, which is now called Lu Varley @ Ramsons.

“We are going to make Ramsons more family-friendly and more affordable,” she said.

“We have been somewhere people come once or twice a year for special occasions, but I want to make it somewhere they come two or three times a month. There will be a more simplified menu and there will also be something for kids on the menu.”

Chris said: “Lu has worked extremely hard and she deserves to have her name above the door. Now I know I am leaving Ros’s legacy in very good hands.”