Restaurant News

After community outcry, Merivale postpones the Melbourne expansion of its meal-delivery service

It may have conquered Sydney’s dining scene, but the hospitality giant has delayed the launch of its meals-at-home service in the Victorian capital after backlash from industry players.

By Yvonne C Lam
The lower-ground dining room at Mr Wong, Sydney.
Just days after announcing the Melbourne expansion of its popular home-delivery kits, Sydney hospitality juggernaut Merivale has put its plans on ice after negative feedback from local businesses.
Last week, the restaurant group announced it was bringing Merivale At Home, a selection of home-delivered, almost-ready-to-eat meals from its Sydney restaurants including Mr Wong, Fred's and Bert's, to the Melbourne market in August.
"Our southern friends are doing it really tough right now - we hope that we can help with the comfort and joy of great meals from our best chefs," said CEO Justin Hemmes in a press release at the time.
But on Sunday, Merivale took to social media to announce it was delaying its planned expansion in response to community feedback.
"Melbourne friends, we didn't anticipate the unintended consequences of expanding into Melbourne right now. After hearing from some of the local operators, we have decided to hit pause and will hold off launching Merivale At Home until Melbourne is back on its feet and hospitality venues are open again," read a post on the company's Instagram.

News of the group's foray into the Victorian capital attracted a slew of criticism from local restaurant businesses, many of whom are weathering the city's second lockdown.
"It just seemed really insensitive. I've been to lots of Merivale restaurants in Sydney and their staff read the room well. However, the organisation seems to have read the room terribly on this," says Raph Rashid, owner of Melbourne's Taco Truck, Beatbox Kitchen and All Day Donuts.
"They're great white sharks," says Joey Kellock of lasagne delivery service 1800 Lasagne. "And great white sharks aren't worried about swimming around waiting to get eaten. They're chasing seals and eating them up for breakfast."
A spike in COVID-19 cases forced the Melbourne metropolitan area and Mitchell Shire back into stage-three restrictions earlier this month. Dining rooms have closed, and operators are trying their best to subsist on takeaway-only trade.
"It's a very heavy scene. Just as things opened again, just as people were hiring again, just as people were [ordering] stock again, it was lockdown," says Kellock.
The Merivale portfolio contains more than 70 restaurants, bars and function spaces in Sydney. Merivale At Home debuted in Sydney in April when the nation was in lockdown, though the company says the product range was in the works well before the current health crisis.
"When our regular operations were put on hold, we were able to focus our energy on bringing the idea to life. It felt like a perfect way for us to keep serving our guests, while also creating jobs for staff and helping our suppliers who were already struggling after a tough few months," said Frank Roberts, Merivale's food and beverage director, in statement.
"Merivale At Home was created with national expansion in mind and we had always planned for Melbourne to be our first interstate launch. We love having guests visit us from Victoria and had been receiving lots of messages asking us when we were going to launch there."
But the company's proposed expansion to Melbourne, some have claimed, would only damage an industry that's already on its knees.
"The current market of premium restaurants doing delivery only allows them to make up a small fraction of their income," says Matt Linklater, general manager of Fitzroy cocktail bar Black Pearl. Linklater scored one of his first bartending jobs at Ivy, Merivale's flagship bar in the Sydney CBD, and acknowledges the company provides employment opportunities to many young Australian hospitality professionals. But the timing of the company's foray into Melbourne, he says, was "tone-deaf".
Similarly, Kellock wonders if the company consulted the celebrated chefs and staff who work for Merivale's Sydney establishments. "I'd be interested to know what the staff and figureheads underneath the Merivale banner actually think about this. I don't know if Merivale has represented those fine people."
Local operators say competition in the hospitality industry is healthy. But if large interstate corporations are eyeing up Melbourne, they should also contribute to the local economy by hiring staff from the community, and engaging with local suppliers.
The Melbourne iteration of Merivale At Home would have seen the meal boxes prepared and packaged in Sydney, and delivered in refrigerated trucks to addresses in the Victorian capital once a week.
"I'm all for a free market, without a doubt. But when the community is down, work with us. Partner with people down here. Don't just fly stuff in," says Rashid.
He says his criticisms of Merivale are not personal, but are borne from his love of the industry. "The people who will remain in hospitality after this period are those who really love it. There's no reasons to be doing this from a capitalist business perspective," he says.
"All the people I know in the restaurant industry are there because they enjoy the very act of hospitality."