In December 2018, a Sunday Age investigation revealed that Dinner by Heston was dramatically underpaying staff and Tipsy Cake, the company that owned the restaurant, was based in a notorious tax haven.
The investigation revealed chefs at the Southbank eatery regularly worked 25 hours of unpaid overtime a week. That pushed pay down to as little as $15 to $17 an hour, well below the minimum rates of the award, the wages safety net.
The Fair Work Ombudsman soon after launched an investigation.
The spokeswoman said Crown would allow customers who purchased Dinner by Heston gift cards to exchange them for Crown gift cards. No timeframe was provided by Crown on when the lease of one of its high-profile tenants would end.
The move to terminate the lease creates further uncertainty for employees who had hoped that Crown may financially support the restaurant to keep it open.
Crown had provided the business – one of its marquee tenants – with a $750,000 interest free loan. Industry sources said the interest free loan could have been used as a way to lure such a high profile business to the casino, boosting its appeal to visitors
Before Christmas Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said it was disappointing that Tipsy Cake had not resolved the underpayment issue before it went into provisional liquidation.
“Tipsy Cake was aware that a significant amount of wages and entitlements were owing to many workers who had been underpaid,” Ms Parker said.
“The circumstances of this matter are disappointing.”
An Ombudsman spokesman this week said it was working with the provisional liquidator to assist affected workers receive back-pay.
Provisional liquidators BRI Ferrier did not respond to a request for comment this week. A case management hearing for the winding up will be heard on Monday in Sydney.
Under Australian law, employees are treated as priority creditors in a liquidation and the government can pay for some unpaid entitlements if the business cannot do so.
Accounts for the Dinner by Heston restaurant show it has reported persistent losses since opening in Melbourne in 2015.
The accounts disclosed it was dependent on interest free loans from a related company run through a Caribbean tax haven and Crown Melbourne ‘’to continue operating’’.
But its opaque structure – restaurant owner Tipsy Cake is based on the volcanic Caribbean island of Nevis – made it hard to determine the true health of the business.
The ownership of companies incorporated in Nevis is never disclosed so there is no way to know who is behind companies created there.
But the company has said Blumenthal sold his shareholding more than a decade ago but remained its chef patron and “integral’’ to its operation.
Blumenthal, a regular on Masterchef in Australia, is famed for his “multi-sensory’’ cooking and unusual food pairings such as bacon and egg ice-cream.
The Michelin-starred UK-based The Fat Duck, the eatery for which he is best known, was voted the world’s best restaurant in 2005.
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Ben Schneiders is an investigative journalist at The Age and has reported extensively on wage theft, corruption, business, politics and the labour movement. A three-time Walkley Award winner, he has been part of The Age’s investigative unit since 2015.
Royce Millar is an investigative journalist at The Age with a special interest in public policy and government decision-making.