Criniti’s restaurants will begin serving breakfast for the first time after the collapsed chain was snapped up by a successful South Australian café operator.
New owner Raj Patel will reduce the overloaded Criniti’s menu, improve service and bring in other features of his existing string of popular Brunelli eateries.
Mr Patel, who will keep the Criniti’s name, will re-open seven closed restaurants as soon as the COVID-19 crisis is over and will then consider buying five other shuttered sites.
He is also looking at ways to honour gift vouchers worth $1.8million which diners would otherwise have lost when the Criniti’s group collapsed last year.
‘There needs to be a lot of change,’ Mr Patel told Daily Mail Australia in his first interview since taking over the chain.
Criniti’s restaurants will begin serving breakfast for the first time after the collapsed chain was snapped up by a successful South Australian café operator. The national chain was founded in 2003 by Frank Criniti and his wife Rima (pictured) with one restaurant at Parramatta
New Criniti’s owner Raj Patel will reduce the overloaded Criniti’s menu, improve service and bring other features of his existing string of successful Brunelli eateries to the outlets
Diners said Criniti’s tried to expand too fast and lost business by charging excessive prices for ‘average’ pizza and pasta. Raj Patel will re-open seven of the closed restaurants as soon as the COVID-19 crisis is over and will then look at buying five other shuttered sites
‘Our first aim will be service, service, service. Because that’s what Criniti’s was lacking for four or five years. No one was looking after service.
‘Second thing will be once we’ve taken over we will straight away be starting breakfast. That will be the Brunelli style and we are very, very famous for breakfast.’
The flamboyant Criniti’s fit-outs which included Ducati motorcycles hung from ceilings and Italian sports cars on the floor would remain, at least for now.
Criniti’s ‘specialised’ in wood-fired pizza, fresh pasta, steaks and ribs, seafood, desserts and pastries. Critics often claimed its menu was bloated and not good value for money.
‘The menu is too big, too huge,’ Mr Patel said. ‘I will work on it. The menu I will change in two, three months. The price, I will work on.’
Indian-born Mr Patel came to Australia in 2008 and started working in an Adelaide pizza shop the same year.
Indian-born Mr Patel came to Australia in 2008 and started working in an Adelaide pizza shop the same year. Brunelli restaurants (pictured) serve Italian fare such as wood-fired pizza and pasta as well as seafood platters, steaks and burgers. Coffee and cakes are also popular
New Criniti’s owner Ray Patel will introduce breakfast to the chain’s menu. ‘That will be the Brunelli style (pictured) and we are very, very famous for breakfast,’ he said
The 34-year-old father-of-two took over three Brunelli restaurants in 2016 and has since added three more.
The six Brunelli restaurants serve Italian fare such as wood-fired pizza and pasta as well as steaks and burgers.
Cafe Brunella in Adelaide’s CBD goes through 100kg of coffee beans a week and is open 24 hours but there are no plans for a Criniti’s which does not close its doors.
Criniti’s, which once operated 13 restaurants in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia, was in recent years blighted by complaints of poor service and over-priced, unimpressive food.
Raj Patel bought into his first three Brunelli restaurants in 2016 and added three more
The chain went into voluntary administration in November with debts of $16.5million.
Five restaurants were closed at that time, a sixth shut down in January and coronavirus looked to have finished off the last seven when they closed on April 3.
Mr Patel will re-open Criniti’s restaurants at Castle Hill, Parramatta, Wetherill Park and Darling Harbour in Sydney, Kotara in Newcastle, as well as Carlton and Southbank in Victoria.
The Manly outlet has been sold but Mr Patel would look at buying Criniti’s sites at Woolloomooloo, Kirrawee, Wollongong, Chermside in Queensland and Carousel in Western Australia if he thought they were viable.
‘I will have a look,’ he said. ‘If it’s worth it, I’ll take them over.’
After examining the Criniti’s books and talking to former staff Mr Patel determined the family-run chain had been poorly managed for years.
‘That was the reason they fell down,’ he said. ‘Too much overheads, too many people in head office.
‘I will put in proper management that makes sure every customer is happy.
Collapsed restaurant chain Criniti’s will return to business as seven of its 13 restaurants are set to be re-opened. Pictured: Bachelor star Noni Janur at the one of the Criniti’s restaurants
‘The customer is a god to me. The customer is everything.
‘Proper service wasn’t happening. It will happen when I first start.’
Mr Patel has been reading online reviews of customers’ experience at Criniti’s and was appalled by what he found. ‘All are bad reviews,’ he said. ‘There’s nothing positive.’
One diner complained he had been ignored for so long by wait staff he called the restaurant he was sitting in just to get served.
Mr Patel has also been spending up to either hours a day on the phone to former employees, asking them what went wrong.
‘Right now I’m in discussions with more than 100 employees,’ he said. ‘They know exactly what was the situation.
‘For the former employees, if they want to work they are welcome back if they are good.’
Mr Patel said Criniti’s closed with liabilities of about $1.8million in gift cards – money spent by the failed business which customers could have expected to be lost.
‘I’m thinking of something to honour that as well,’ he said.
Six of the Criniti’s Italian eateries (Parramatta pictured) were closed after the business went into administration on November 19 with debts of more than $16.5million
One idea was to accept a gift card for $100, for example, and issue five $20 cards.
Mr Patel runs the Brunelli group from the same office chair he inherited when he bought his first restaurant and said there would be no bloated Criniti’s head office from now on.
He instead intended to consult with staff at each outlet over what would work best for their location and to regularly visit every restaurant.
COVID-19 restrictions were the only factor holding up the re-opening of the chain.
‘Once coronavirus goes away straight away it will be open,’ Mr Patel said. ‘It will be within two weeks.’
Worrells Solvency and Forensic Accountants said in November high overheads and low consumer spending had contributed to the financial distress of the ‘well-known, well-liked’ restaurant chain.
‘There is some magic in the Criniti’s name, with the early locations in particular achieving near-iconic status in the minds of many Australians,’ administrator Graeme Beattie said.
The Italian restaurant chain posted to Instagram in April saying they would return
The Criniti’s chain, founded in 2003, was managed by Frank Criniti (left) and his wife Rima (right) until they divorced in 2009 and he was left in charge
‘The level of brand recognition and affinity is extraordinary for a small business of this size and we’re confident that shrewd investors will want to take the name forward.’
Last week he was delighted to have found a buyer.
‘The retail environment has never been more challenging so we’re very pleased that a slimmed-down Criniti’s will be revived,’ Mr Beattie said.
‘Our faith has been rewarded. This is a remarkable tale of retail survival and a testament to the strength of the Criniti’s brand name.’
The chain’s sudden collapse in November came as a shock to industry rivals, but people who had dined there said it did not surprise them at all.
Hundreds of negative online reviews litter the internet, highlighting the restaurant’s ‘tacky decor’, ‘poor service’ and ‘disgusting food’.
Diners said Criniti’s tried to expand too fast and lost business by charging excessive prices for ‘average’ pizza and pasta.
‘When you hang a $120,000 Ducati from the ceiling and park an Aventador inside your shop just for show but have very sub standard service and still expect high prices and flashy s*** to give repeat business?’ one person wrote online.
‘They were always a sad imitation of real Italian food… it was just a matter of time,’ another wrote.
A third said the menu – which included a chicken schnitzel and chips for $38 – was enough to turn them off ever dining at Criniti’s again.
The chain, founded in 2003, was managed by Frank Criniti and his wife Rima until they divorced in 2009 and he was left in charge.
Frank was disqualified from managing companies for five years in 2018 due to his involvement in seven other failed businesses.
A year earlier he told the New South Wales Supreme Court some of his financial backers had used Comanchero bikies to threaten to shoot up his restaurants.
Rima told Daily Mail Australia: ‘While I left the business almost a decade ago, I have continued to dine at Criniti’s with my children, and have always loved the food and the experience.
‘However, it takes more than fantastic food and hospitality to make a restaurant group a success.’
Mr Patel now hopes to restore Criniti’s to its halcyon days.
HOW CRINITI’S RESTAURANTS ROSE, FELL AND ROSE AGAIN
Criniti’s was founded at Parramatta in Sydney’s western suburbs in 2003 by Frank Criniti and his wife Rima. They were both just 23
The menu was designed to combine traditional Southern Italian food and contemporary Australian cuisine.
The Crinitis opened their second eatery at Darling Harbour in 2009, the year Rima left the business. The business became their flagship outlet.
Criniti’s became famous for their flashy fit-outs featuring Italian motorcycles and sports cars.
More NSW outlets followed at Woolloomooloo Wharf, Kirrawee and Manly in Sydney, Wollongong, and Kotara in Newcastle.
Criniti’s spread interstate to Chermside in Brisbane, Cannington in Perth, and Southbank and Carlton in Melbourne.
Some customers have complained the quality of food and service went down while prices continued to go up as the business expanded.
On 19 November, 2019 the chain went into voluntary administration and five of its 13 restaurants were closed. A sixth was closed in January.
Coronavirus seemed to have killed off the last six restaurants until South Australia’s Brunelli Group stepped in and bought them.
Brunelli owner Ray Patel will re-open outlets at Castle Hill, Parramatta, Wetherill Park, Darling Harbour, Kotara in Newcastle, as well as Carlton and Southbank in Victoria.
The Manly outlet has been sold but Mr Patel would look at buying Criniti’s sites at Wollomooloo, Kirrawee, Wollongong, Chermside (Queensland) and Carousel (Western Australia) if he thought they were viable.