A series of restaurant rebrandings and a public apology for underpayment of staff has not been enough to save George Calombaris' embattled hospitality group Made Establishment, which was placed into voluntary administration yesterday. Almost of all its venues will cease trading immediately, affecting 400 employees.
Advisory firm KordaMentha announced Craig Shepard and Leanne Chesser have been appointed administrators of the 22 companies under the Melbourne group's portfolio, which includes The Press Club and Hellenic Republic (which both recently rebranded as Elektra Dining Room and Crofter Dining Room & Bar respectively) and souvlaki eateries Jimmy Grants, which has seven locations across Melbourne. Frozen yoghurt shops Yo-Chi will continue to trade as usual.
"The appointment follows declining trade across venues since the announcement of an enforceable undertaking with the Fair Work Ombudsman after self-disclosure of underpayments at the Group's Press Club, Gazi and Hellenic Republic restaurants up to 2017," said KordaMentha in a statement.
The statement also attributed increasing costs, industry competition, diners' growing preference for "cheaper, mid-tier dining options" and the expansion of food-delivery services including UberEats and Deliveroo for the company's decline.
Calombaris has issued a statement on social media expressing his sadness at the closure of his 13-year-old restaurant empire.
"My dream for Made Establishment 13 years ago was a vision to create something truly special for all those who entered our restaurants," read an announcement on his Instagram.
"To all of my team, I truly regret it has come to this. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your loyalty and friendship.
"On a personal note, the last few months have been the most challenging I have ever faced. At this time, while personally devastated, I remain thankful to my family, friends, the Made team, our loyal and regular customers."
The news comes after months of controversy surrounding the chef's restaurant group. In July last year, it backpaid staff $7.8 million in wages and superannuation after it admitted it had underpaid workers at its Hellenic Club, Gazi and Press Club restaurants.
At the time, Calombaris insisted the restaurant group would continue to thrive.
"We aren't closing our restaurants, we're here. And it's my job as their leader to keep pushing forward and keep speaking this message, not shying away from the mistake we made, but also acknowledging that we fixed it," he told the ABC.
KordaMentha confirmed all employees have been paid all outstanding wages and superannuation up to the date of the company's collapse.
The administrators will meet with creditors next Thursday, and will seek alternative operators for Made Establishment's venues.
Chef Matt Wilkinson, a partner at Crofter Dining Room & Bar, hinted the Brunswick East restaurant could continue to trade in the near future.
"The door @crofterdining is just slightly closed for a while, but hopefully open soon," reads a post on his Instagram.
"I'd like to personally thank @gcalombaris quite simply #nothisfault love ya bud x"