Hewas the acerbic; steely-eyed star of MasterChef for years; and now his dreams, and restaurant empire, are in tatters.
George Calombaris’ Melbourne-based food empire went into voluntary administration this week following a $7.8 million underpayment scandal for his staff.
But industry experts are now wondering, was this collapse a one-off or the forerunner of more trauma in our eating-out culture threatened by the rise of amateur kitchens now providing a hug range of food-delivery services.
Calombaris has placed 22 companies in his MAdE Establishment Group into voluntary administration pleading that his underpayment error was due to lack of experience of running a large food empire.
Before his rise to notoriety on the MasterChef judging panel; George Calombaris was largely-unknown outside the Melbourne culinary scene.
The suddenly-famous “celebrity chef” launched his restaurant empire on the back of the wildly-successful cooking show that brought his name into millions of Australian homes.
But with the launch of Uber Eats and other gourmet home delivery services in the last five years; the timing of the launch of a high-end restaurant chain might have been ill-judged.
Restaurant operators say that home delivery meals have reduced in-restaurant patronage by about a half in many suburbs. And with the high-end restaurants competing against home kitchens turning-out good-quality bistro food on delivery, it makes it hard to compete.
Calombaris’ 12 restaurants and food venues in Melbourne will stop trading immediately, with up to 500 workers at risk of losing their jobs.
The only part of the business excluded from administration is a chain of four Yo-Chi yoghurt outlets.
But was it bad-management, bad-luck, or the relentless rise of the gig economy that saw this high-flyer of the Australian hospitality industry come crashing to earth?
It is possible that many high-end exclusive restaurants around Sydney and Melbourne’s fashionably-bohemian inner-city suburbs are now feeling the cold winds of change blowing across their necks, and wondering if the Calombaris downfall is a one-off, or a portend for the future.