Matt Wilkinson’s Crofter Dining Room closes as Calombaris collapse fallout spreads across Melbourne


Matt Wilkinson with Italian chef Davide Scabin in 2014. Source: AAP Image/Sarah Motherwell

The fallout from the spectacular collapse of George Calombaris’ restaurant empire is spreading across Melbourne this morning, with prominent chef Matt Wilkinson forced to shutter his recently launched venue, Crofter Dining Room, in Brunswick East.

Just weeks after investing in a glitzy relaunch of the former Hellenic Republic site under a new banner, the new business has been forced to close as administrators pick over the remains of 22 venues tied to the former MasterChef judge.

Calombaris’ MAdE Establishment brought in administrators from KordaMentha yesterday afternoon after a $7.8 million wage theft scandal pushed the business over the edge financially.

The jobs of more than 400 staff are now at risk as administrators scramble to sell the dozen restaurants and food venues across Melbourne founded by Calombaris.

Some of Calombaris’ most loyal lieutenants, some of whom were shifted around the sprawling company in the wake of the wage theft scandal, have also become embroiled in the fallout, as venues tied to MAdE stop trading, including Electra (formerly The Press Club), Hotel Argentina (formerly Hellenic Hotel), and Crofter (formerly Hellenic Republic).

Only frozen yoghurt brand Yo-Chi will remain open ahead of a first meeting of Made creditors slated for February 20.

Wilkinson, who left his CBD brunch spot Pope Joan to launch Crofter earlier this year, under the umbrella of the MAdE group, took to social media late Monday night to address what he described as a “clusterfuck” to customers and fans.

“If you haven’t seen the clusterfuck that has unfolded with Made businesses well…” Wilkinson said in a short Instagram post

“The door @crofterdining is just slightly closed for a while, but hopefully [sic] open soon.”

Defending his business partner, Wilkinson thanked Calombaris, dismissing a suggestion from one commenter that he was warned about going into business with him.

“I’d like to personally thank @gcalombaris [George Calombaris] quite simply #nothisfault love ya bud x,” Wilkinson said.

Only weeks ago Wilkinson was preparing to open the reinvigorated former Hellenic Republic site, later celebrating a strong reception from customers.

The new restaurant promised a departure from “big fuck-off steak” and chicken Kiev, with lighter vegetarian-friendly meals and a gin-heavy booze menu inspired by Wilkinson’s role as the creative director at Four Pillars distillery.

While the future of the venue is now shrouded in uncertainty, there is speculation Wilkinson may approach administrators to purchase or otherwise spin off the Crofter business.

The chef did not respond to calls or emails on Tuesday morning, but a spokesperson for KordaMentha administrators said such a deal could be a “neat looking” solution.

“We’re not ruling anything out, not ruling anything in,” the spokesperson said, declining to comment further.

Another Calombaris venue, Hotel Argentina, which was recently launched under the stewardship of former Hellenic Republic head chef Dan Szwarc, could also be the subject of a purchase offer in coming weeks.

Szwarc did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday, but in an Instagram post suggested the business could be reopening at some stage.

Thank you to my amazing staff @hotelargentina3016, to my friends and family, to Williamstown for all the love and support and to everyone that came around to sample my food. I will see you all soon!” Szwarc said.

Calombaris himself is reportedly exploring a sale of his $4.75 million Toorak mansion as he deals with the financial fallout of the wage theft scandal and subsequent business collapse.

In a statement share on Instagram on Monday, the chef said he was “gutted that it’s come to this”.

“I truly regret it has come to this,” he said, omitting any direct reference to staff being underpaid.

While the collapse of MAdE Establishment arose from the financial fallout of a multi-million dollar back payment bill, administrators from KordaMentha also said several industry trends contributed to the venues’ trading performance.

“Other factors were generally difficult trading conditions in the hospitality industry in recent years due to the expansion of the on-demand economy via services such as UberEats and Deliveroo, increasing costs, fierce industry competition and changes in consumer tastes to favour cheaper mid-tier dining options,” administrator Craig Shepard said in a statement.

NOW READ: MasterChef star George Calombaris to pay $200,000 fine for underpaying 515 workers $7.8 million

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