Embattled celebrity chef George Calombaris is quietly shelving his Greek restaurant empire after forking out $7.8m in a staff pay scandal.
Just hours after the former MasterChef judge announced his Hellenic Republic restaurant in Melbourne would close, the true extent of his careful re-branding can be revealed.
The 41-year-old chef, who earned a seven-figure salary on the Network 10 cooking show, has handed over four of his popular restaurants in the last six months alone.
It leaves him with just three of his Greek restaurants left standing.
Calombaris in happier times with his wife Natalie Tricarico, who he married in September 2018
Earlier this year, he faced public ruin after being forced to pay back $7.8 million to more than 500 workers.
Closing without fanfare, his once-proud Greek empire has since been turned into trendy Italian, Argentinian and European restaurants – all notably without Calombaris at the helm.
Despite removing his name from the restaurants, which are led by new star chefs, they are still owned by his multi-million dollar MAdE Establishment empire.
Yesterday the TV star announced the ‘bittersweet’ decision to close the Brunswick East branch of Melbourne restaurant Hellenic Republic.
Former Masterchef judge George Calombaris had failed to properly pay hundreds of staff
It will now be led by British chef Matt Wilkinson, who is transforming the once traditional Greek restaurant into a modern dining room focused on vegetarian-friendly fare.
In the first of several surprise moves earlier this year, his award-winning Press Club restaurant in Melbourne was transformed into Elektra under Executive Chef Reuben Davis.
The Hellenic Hotel in Williamstown has also been carefully re-branded into an Argentinian restaurant, Hotel Argentina, run by chef Dan Szwarc.
Hotel Argentina opened earlier this month, and boasts an empanada bar, a wine cellar and a restaurant.
Hellenic Republic in Kew will become an Italian restaurant called Vito, according to Good Food.
The embattled chef is understood to be focusing on his last remaining Hellenic Republic branch in Brighton, as well as his Jimmy Grants chain and Gazi in central Melbourne.
It comes after he made a tearful plea to the public not to abandon his restaurants.
Calombaris gave an emotional interview with the ABC after the scandal broke, pleading with customers to stand by his businesses.
‘I love the people that have worked for me and I don’t want them to suffer right now,’ he said.
‘Great restaurants are voted by bums on seats and obviously… don’t punish my people.
‘Just know that when you come into one of our restaurants, know when you pay the bill, that those, my people, are getting paid and paid correctly.’
George Calombaris giving an emotional interview to ABC in July where he apologised to staff
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.
Daily Mail Australia reported earlier this year how the chef’s restaurants were suffering with some diners refusing to go there after the wage scandal.
The celebrity chef’s hospitality group MAdE was forced to backpay all current and former employees who had been dudded on wages.
The Fair Work Ombudsman also hit the company with a $200,000 fine.
Closed: The Melbourne eatery served a range of traditional Greek food, including $89 lamb
Calombaris’ restaurants were a go-to place among MasterChef fans.
But when Daily Mail Australia visited his eateries in July, shortly after his tearful interview, they were unusually quiet.
The chef tied the knot with his girlfriend-of-11-years Miss Tricarico in September last year.
The chef was fined was fined $200,000 after his hospitality empire underpaid 515 employees
In July, another employee slammed the celebrity chef and claimed to be owed money on top of the $7.8million his restaurant empire was forced to pay back.
The former waitress, who worked at Hellenic Republic, told The Project she was still owed ‘anywhere between three and four thousand dollars’.
Orlaith Belfrage claimed she was wrongly classified as a casual worker, and therefore wasn’t paid overtime wages as a full time worker.
‘For my overtime it was just explained that that was just how it is, and I can just suck it up and work the job, or leave,’ she said.
He made the surprise decision to close popular luxury restaurant The Press Club in July after a successful 12-year stint. It has since re-opened as Elektra under chef Reuben Davis