Radek Sali believed George Calombaris’ food empire was worth saving and he ploughed his own money in to keep it going.
Radek Sali believed George Calombaris’ food empire was worth saving and he ploughed his own money in to keep it going.

Rich lister behind Calombaris empire opens up about collapse

The rich lister who tried to save George Calombaris' food empire has opened up about the sadness of the company's collapse.

"The past few weeks have been some of the saddest and most challenging we have experienced in our time doing business. This has been deeply felt," former Swisse boss Radek Sali said of his efforts.

Calombaris' 12 restaurants remain shut and 400 jobs are gone after the food empire was placed in voluntary administration on Monday.

Radek Sali and George Calombaris. Picture: Fiona Hamilton Photography
Radek Sali and George Calombaris. Picture: Fiona Hamilton Photography

The restaurants will remain closed as administrators try to sell the empire Calombaris spent 13 years building.

Mr Sali brought into Calombaris' Made Establishment food empire in late 2016.

Mr Sali also said it was unlikely that major investors such as he and Calombaris would get anything back from the selling off of the businesses.

"It is our expectation that we will receive zero cents in the dollar from the administration process," Sali said this afternoon.

"With our support, the administrators have been focused on securing new owners for the establishments and saving as many jobs as possible."

On buying into the business Sali bought out former partners and installing new executives who discovered the back pay issue. Both Sali and Calombaris each owned by 46 per cent of the company.

Mr Sali was also frank in saying the Fair Work Ombudsman's handing down of its investigation into underpayments - two years after $7.8m was paid back to staff - hurt the business.

"The reality is, the hit each of the businesses took following Fair Work's handing down of the Enforceable Undertaking, two years after we repaid staff, was irreparable."

"We did everything in our power to try and avoid this result."

Sali also spoke passionately about his "good friend" Calombaris.

"Sadly, my good friend and colleague George has carried a huge amount of the burden and things have not been much better for our extraordinary team at Made, many of whom are close friends, whom I am forever thankful to for doing everything possible to turn the business around."

"I am really sorry that we were not successful."

Made Establishment self-reported the underpayments to the Fair Work Ombudsman on April 3, 2017.

MADE CEO Leigh Small with majority owner Radek Sali at Hellenic restaurant. Picture: David Geraghty / The Australian.
MADE CEO Leigh Small with majority owner Radek Sali at Hellenic restaurant. Picture: David Geraghty / The Australian.

An initial underpayment estimate of $2.6 million eventually hit $7.8 million, and most was repaid by October 2017, but FairWork had to finish its investigation.

"While the underpayment occurred prior to our ownership, once we found the error it was us, the directors at Made Establishment, who were the ones to report it.

"This included George.

"We also repaid current and former employees before Fair Work commenced and completed its investigation. This investigation clearly concluded that they failed to find any indication that the underpayment was intentional."

Sali also hit out at rumours and speculation about the business, calling for people to deal in facts.

"Having watched the conversation and much misinformation surface throughout the week I feel compelled to ask that people show empathy and respect for our team."

"There are so many people impacted by this decision to close the business. They are now at the centre of national debate and the subject of misreporting of facts."

"This takes an extensive personal toll on individuals who have done all they can to keep the business going."

Sali - who is believed to have put $250,000 last weekend to make sure wages were paid - said all staff would get entitlements.

"All staff have been paid up to date and will receive their entitlements as part of the administration process and will be redeployed swiftly into jobs with our support wherever possible."

"Since considering an administration process, the care and welfare of our team has been the number one priority, we now ask the same from the Australian media and general public."

The Made Establishment business at its peak included seven cookbooks, 16 restaurants - most famously The Press Club, in the old Herald & WeeklyTimes building in Flinders St - and more than 500 staff.

Sali had made wealth estimated to be close to $390m when he sold his stake in the Swisse Wellness.


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