George Calombaris’ the Press Club to close: How the industry reacted

Over the weekend George Calombaris announced his flagship fine diner the Press Club will close on June 29, after 12 years.

The announcement was made on social media, when the chef wrote, “I won’t lie. These will be the hardest words I have to write. I am emotional. I can’t stop crying but I know good things have to come to an end. @thepressclub has given me everything. Not just me but also thousands who have experienced it.”

 He continued: “We make mistakes. Lots of them. @thepressclub will always be in my heart and soul - 12 years of memories. More than a restaurant; it’s a place that creates stories, innovation, love and life.”

The Flinders Street restaurant is not closing for financial reasons, he told Good Food.

"It ain't broke but I want to break it to be better. I'm a different person from the selfish, one-dimensional guy who opened that restaurant 12 years ago."

In six of those 12 years, Calombaris and his restaurant group Made Establishment Group admitted to underpaying 162 staff members (of the then 430 total) by $2.6 million across his Melbourne restaurants, the Press Club, Gazi and Hellenic Republic.

 In 2017, each staff member was back-paid an average of $16,000, for unpaid overtime and wages below the industry award.

On Saturday when the MasterChef judged announced the closure of his restaurants, social media was a flurry of sadness for the loss of the fine diner, best wishes to Calombaris, and anger as the underpayment issue resurfaced. 

Comments of admiration and congratulations came flooding in on Calombaris’ Instagram post, from chefs Miguel Maestre, Matt Moran, Curtis Stone, Kylie Miller and more, as well as from Food and Wine Victoria CEO Anthea Loucas Bosha, and TV presenter Carrie Bickmore.

But on media outlets like Broadsheet and Good Food, the comments addressed wage theft – something Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has vowed to criminalise.

Comment on Broadsheet's Facebook share of the news

On Good Food’s Instagram post on the news, one person wrote: “Is this selective memory syndrome? When you cheat staff out of their correct wages it's wage theft. Don't spin a miserly scrooge into a martyr. You should be demanding EXEMPLARY INDUSTRY BEHAVIOUR in the people that you feature. No need to commiserate with this stinge.”

Others called for Good Food to retract its post – neither the social media post nor the article made any mention of the underpayment scandal, and said that the closure “marks the end of his dream to own the world's No. 1 modern Greek restaurant.”

Comment on Good Food's Instagram post about the Press Club's closure

Comments of fond memories of the restaurant and its food also came in, including one from Sydney cake Bondi Wholefoods, which said, “sorry to hear @thepressclub One of the best dining experiences Ive have ever had. Aust Govt are KILLING small business, and its heartbreaking to watch (and extremely incovenient!!)”

Made Establishment Group’s underpayment was one of the foodservice industry’s biggest, with Neil Perry’s Rockpool Group, Dinner by Heston in Melbourne and two of Teague Ezard’s restaurants among the high-profile diners also recently investigated for staff underpayments.

The Press Club adds to the growing list on fine-dining closures in Melbourne and Sydney, with Ross and Sunny Lusted announcing just last week that the Bridge Room will close next month.