Crown restaurant linked to celebrity chef found out for underpaying staff millions

A Melbourne restaurant linked to celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal has reportedly cheated workers out of $4.5 million.

A leaked creditors’ report obtained by ABC News has revealed fine dining restaurant Dinner by Heston – which operates at Melbourne’s Crown Casino – had debts of almost $8 million, mostly owed to workers.

“The major financial issue confronting the company is the underpayment of employee entitlements over a period of four years from commencement of business until circa June 2019, when the employment arrangements were changed to comply with employment legislation,” the report said, according to ABC News.

Dinner by Heston’s employees were underpaid more than $4 million in wages, as well as at least $435,000 in entitlements.

“We have been informed that the blueprint for the retainer of the majority of staff was initially established by a Crown employee,” it read. “The blueprint was applied over several years and resulted in the underpayment of employee wages.

“The company self-reported the under-payments to the Fair Work Ombudsman.”

Dinner by Heston is not owned by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, despite carrying his name.

Crown maintains it played no role in the hiring of staff Dinner by Heston, as the restaurant was a tenant at Crown Casino and not a partner, which was responsible for its own operations.

However, the British-based arm of Dinner with Heston, Tipsy Cake, says Crown was significantly involved in the underpayment scandal, according to a statement from the company obtained by The Sydney Morning Herald. 

“As a foreign company, Tipsy relied from the outset on the advice given by advisers in Australia and our partner Crown Melbourne, who were responsible for advising on the staff remuneration blueprint for the restaurant,” a Tipsy Cake spokesperson told the outlet.

The restaurant will not trade beyond this Friday night after entering into provisional liquidation.

Adding to Crown Resorts’ woes is news that Hong Kong-based gambling company Melco has terminated its deal with James Packer for a bundle of shares worth a reported $880 million, the second tranche of a two-part deal between the companies for a 19.9 per cent stake in Crown.

Melco reportedly abandoned the second tranche to focus on its core business in Asia, an area being hit heavily by the coronavirus health crisis.

The second tranche was also put on hold in the wake of a public inquiry launched by the NSW gambling regulator into probity issues around Crown and Melco, which reportedly include whether the share sale breached the terms of Crown’s Sydney casino licence.

George Calombaris’ restaurant empire under the knife

In other news, reports have emerged that much of ex-Master Chef Australia host George Calombaris’ restaurant empire has been placed in voluntary administration.

The Guardian reported that KordaMentha has been appointed as administrators of 22 companies in the MAdE Establishment group, which operates 12 restaurants and food venues in Melbourne including Press Club, Gazi and Hellenic Republic.

Around 400 employees are expected to lose their jobs as a result of MAdE Establishment’s collapse.

The announcement followed last year’s confession by Calombaris of underpaying staff at restaurants under his hospitality group by $7.8 million, prompting widespread backlash.

In a statement, the administrators said employees of MAdE Establishment had been paid outstanding wages and superannuation up to the date of KordaMentha’s appointment.

On Instagram, Calombaris said: “To all 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.”

Main image: Heston Blumenthal/Brian Minkoff, London Pixels