A popular hotel is mourning the loss of a dedicated, loyal manager described by colleagues as a legend.

Enzo Franco worked at The Trout Hotel in Cockermouth for more than 20 years and had managed the Terrace Bistro since its launch in 2003.

He died on Sunday.

Born in Sicily, Mr Franco moved to England as a baby, retaining pride in his Italian heritage.

After the move, the family initially lived in southern England before moving to Liverpool.

There his father ran a fruit shop and the young Enzo would make early morning visits to the city's fruit and veg market with his dad to buy stock. The habit stuck for life.

His wife Caterina said: "Throughout his life he loved going out early to buy the fresh fruit. That was embedded.

"When it was Christmas he used to go to the fruit shop on Station Street and order boxes of fruit. And he would eat all that fruit in that two-week period.

"He had to have his fruit in. That came before bread. And he loved his red wine."

News and Star: Yvonne Corr and Enzo Franco

Mr Franco started work at 16 and was in the hospitality industry throughout his career.

He met his wife in 1976, when he was working at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, and they moved to Cumbria in 1997. He had left his job, Mrs Franco had told him about the Lake District, and during a visit to the jobcentre he found a vacancy for an assistant restaurant manager at The Trout Hotel.

He was interviewed by managing director Sue Eccles and restaurant manager Gianni Rega, and the Italians ended up chatting in their native tongue.

Mrs Eccles said: "He was very popular. A lot of the team at the hotel have described him as a legend. He was known by everyone and liked by everyone.

"It's been a very, very hard week at work for everybody. He was part of the hotel. That's what's going to be so hard.

"I'd go in and see him making his cup of coffee in the morning. It's been quite surreal this week him not being there."

Mr Franco, 62, led a team of usually about seven staff, along with extra seasonal workers.

"He must have employed hundreds of people in the Terrace over the years," added Mrs Eccles.

A personal friend of Mrs Eccles, Mr Franco was godfather to her 12-year-old daughter Aimee.

Mrs Eccles said: "Enzo for me has been a work colleague but also a friend. He's been part of the family."

His wife added: "He just loved his job. Working at The Trout was like being part of a family, that's how it felt."

RELATED: Customers pay tribute to Enzo Franco

Mr and Mrs Franco had three children, Amelia, Vince and Antonella, and five grandchildren, Ellie, Tom, Harry, Lucas and Isabella.

Mrs Franco said: "He loved his family. His children and his grandchildren were his life.

"And, as I have recently learned, he was loved by a huge number of people. We are just in disbelief how much he was appreciated and really cared for. We just can't believe it.

"His focus was his children and his grandchildren. He'd do anything for them. He was able to bring himself down to their level.

"He didn't care about anything else. He didn't care about money, whether he had it or whether he didn't, as long as there was food in the house and he had his children around him.

"He never wanted or expected anything. All he wanted was to go to work and have his children around him.

"The amount of love he had for them was unreal.

"I'm honoured to have been part of his life and his children are honoured to have call him Father, really and truly."

News and Star: Enzo Franco

In testament to how little he was concerned about possessions or status, Mr Franco drove an ageing Ford Fiesta which had been given to him by his father.

His wife said: "It was so old it had no power steering or anything. It passed every MOT since he had it. He said 'I'm not buying another car'."

Mrs Franco said she and her husband had enjoyed lovely holidays, including celebrating his 60th birthday by taking the children and grandchildren to Disneyland Paris.

She added: "The children absolutely loved it. He's left them lovely memories."

If his wife was away, Mr Franco liked to spend an evening in their Great Broughton home enjoying a Chinese takeaway and a bottle of wine.

Mrs Franco said: "He was in Heaven."

He had done just that on Saturday after work.

He died suddenly on Sunday from natural causes while enjoying a coffee and a cigarette, his other simple pleasures.

Mr Franco's funeral is due to take place on Thursday, January 17 at 1pm in St Joseph's Church on Crown Street, Cockermouth, followed by a gathering at the Terrace Bistro.

The bistro will be closed for the day.