Disgraced chef George Calombaris has publicly apologised for underpaying his restaurant staff.
The 40-year-old’s hospitality company MAdE has paid back workers $7.8million after failing to give them penalty rates for years.
In his first interview since he was fined $200,000 for the breach on 18 July, Calombaris broke down in tears and said sorry to his workers.
Disgraced chef George Calombaris has publicly apologised for underpaying his restaurant staff
‘I want to apologise to all my team, both past and present, for the effect I’ve had on them, we’ve had on them. I apologise to them,’ the former Masterchef judge told the ABC’s 7.30.
Calombaris insisted the underpayment was a mistake and blamed it on inexperience.
‘I won’t forget that afternoon in 2017 when we sat there with my new business partners after we’d done a full audit for the business and discovered the underpayments,’ he said in the interview which airs on Wednesday night.
At one point in the interview, Calombaris was asked about the toll the scandal had taken on him.
He stared at the floor for several seconds before he appeared to dodge the question and instead grovelled: ‘I love this industry I really do. And I love every opportunity it’s given me’.
Calombaris said that when he opened his first restaurant as an excited 26-year-old he failed to set up a good enough team to manage finances.
‘The creativity is flying, the ideas are flying, the dreaming is there… but the sophistication in the back end wasn’t there.’
There was no chief executive officer, ‘people culture manager’ or ‘elite finance team’ which he has now, he added.
Calombaris said he did not want to blame anyone, adding: ‘I take full responsibility for this. I’m sorry.’
As for the future, Calombaris is keen to be a ‘voice for change’ in the industry by ‘not shying away from the mistake we made, but also acknowledging that we fixed it’.
It comes after Daily Mail Australia reported that the chef’s restaurants were suffering with some diners refusing to go there after the wage theft scandal.
Anyone for lunch? Gazi Restaurant in Melbounre’s CBD had plenty of empty tables
Two is a crowd! A lone diner sits in Calombaris’ deserted Jimmy Grants restaurant in St Kilda
Hellenic Republic in leafy Brighton was quiet on a Tuesday afternoon on the day of the MasterChef finale. It’s owner George Calombaris could be feeling the heat after admitting to ripping off his workers
On a sunny winter’s afternoon in Melbourne on a Tuesday, on the eve of the MasterChef finale for season 11, Calombaris’ flagship restaurants, which have long been feted by the Melbourne establishment, were beginning to show the strain of what some have labelled the end of Melbourne’s love-affair with the once lovable chef.
His popular eateries, including Gazi, Hellenic Republic and Jimmy Grants in Richmond and St Kilda, were unusually quiet when visited by Daily Mail Australia on the day of the MasterChef grand finale, with plenty of empty tables and more staff than customers.
In a town that loves to slash a tall poppy, Calombaris’ time at the top of Melbourne’s culinary garden was already on borrowed time.
When news got out in 2017 that he had underpaid staff at his restaurants by $2.6 million, his many fans were disappointed.
A downcast George Calombaris was seen going out for breakfast on the day it was announced his MasterChef days were over last week
But Calombaris was quick to publicly admit the mistake and assured an adoring public that all would be rectified.
The MasterChef juggernaut rolled on, but the poisonous seed of doubt among Melbourne’s cynical culinary scene had been sowed.
And earlier this month, the full scale of his underpayment of staff emerged – a whopping $7.8 million.
In a court-enforceable undertaking with Fair Work Ombudsman, the celebrity chef’s hospitality group MAdE was forced to backpay all current and former employees who have been dudded on wages.
The company has also been hit with a $200,000 fine, which has been roundly condemned as too soft.
The rise and dramatic fall of George Calombaris has been years in the making.
You can sit anywhere: A boycott against the celebrity chef appears to be gathering pace
Likewise Jimmy Grants in Richmond was practically deserted on Tuesday
Like many a celebrity chef, Calombaris’ restaurants became a go-to place among MasterChef fans – many whom would need to save a year’s wages to eat at his pricier venues.
Many would leave happy with the experience. Some would not.
But Calombaris’ onscreen personality would ensure people kept coming through his many restaurant doors.
MasterChef was a feel good program that has made millions off making viewers feel a quiet moment of joy as they sit down to eat their half-baked dinners at home.
It was feel good food porn and Calombaris was a big part of the ingredients.
But if Calombaris was on-the-nose following the initial reports of wage theft, his run-in with a critic at a soccer match tipped him from the pan into the fire.
Calomobaris punched the 19-year-old man at the 2017 A-League grand final in Sydney, in a moment he described as a ‘brain freeze’.
Jimmy Grants was disturbingly quiet on the afternoon of the MasterChef grand final on Tuesday
No one seemed to want to enjoy sitting outside at Jimmy Grants in Richmond
The court heard Calombaris was the number-one ticket holder for the Melbourne Victory, and was verbally confronted by football fans about the pay dispute.
Calombaris said he lost two key ambassadorship roles within two days of the incident being televised, including a $250,000 deal with Bulla Dairy and close to half a million dollars a year from the motor group ULR.
Last week he lost a lucrative deal with WA Tourism as ex-employees called for him to be dumped from MasterChef.
They got their wish on the morning on Tuesday’s grand finale – the same day enthusiastic diners should have been flocking to Calombaris’ restaurants for a glimpse of the star.
Instead, between midday and 2pm, hardly a soul was seen venturing into Calombaris’ restaurants.
George Calombaris lashes out at a teenage soccer fan who called him out at the A-League grand final in 2017. The chef was charged and later apologised for his behaviour
A boycott against dining at the the ex-Masterchef’s eateries appears to be gathering apace
Jimmy Grants in Richmond was dead and its sister restaurant in St Kilda was also deathly quiet.
Over at the Hellenic Republic in Brighton – Calombaris’ jewel in the crown and location of all his recent woes – was all but vacant.
Over in the bustling CBD, hardly a soul could be spotted at Calombaris’ Gazi.
While social media has been awash with calls to boycott Calombaris’ restaurants, those who were victims of his wage theft at the Hellenic Republic remain hopeful he is not run out of business for the sake of those who still work there.
‘It would be a shame if workers were to suffer even more over this whole sorry saga,’ one worker said.
Calombaris was fined $200,000 on 18 July after his hospitality empire underpaid 515 employees over a six years.
The usually bustling Hellenic Republic restaurant in Brighton had plenty of free tables