Can Fabes was dealt a massive blow when its founder and renowned chef, Santi Santamaria, died of a heart attack in February 2011 while at the helm of the kitchen at a restaurant he had just opened in Singapore.

Santamaria's death and Spain's economic problems combined appear to have proved too large a hurdle to overcome for the business model so painstakingly devised by the chef and his wife and partner, Angels Serra.

Founded in 1981 as an informal bistro by the self-taught Santamaria in his family's ancestral village of Sant Celoni, 53 kilometers (33 miles) northeast of Barcelona, Can Fabes earned its first Michelin star seven years later.

The chef's uncompromising insistence on using only the highest quality ingredients and his deep respect for Catalan regional produce soon led to greater recognition which saw him earn and maintain an almost unattainable Michelin three-star status from 1994 to 2011, continuously.

Santamaria's death heralded the first problem, with the loss of one star. At that stage, his empire had burgeoned to include restaurants in Barcelona, Madrid and Toledo in Spain, as well as in Dubai and Singapore, apart from the original one.

The chef's family â¿¿ his wife, son Pau and daughter Regina â¿¿ tried to keep Santamaria's heritage alive, employing chef Xavier Pellicer and then Frenchman Jerome Bondaz. But one by one they lost restaurants, and on Aug. 31 the original bistro must close, they say.

"The crisis has affected us badly," Santamaria's daughter told The Associated Press on Saturday. "While we still retain a tiny hope that a financial backer will step forward to invest in this dream, we have to accept that cuisine at this level carries huge running costs."

Luchini, the Metropoli restaurant guide editor, said, "I'm sure El Bulli lost money, and most of Madrid's top-end restaurants are suffering badly and surviving only because they succeed in attracting around 90 percent foreign customers.

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