Viewers angry as George Calombaris begs for public's support

Bianca Soldani
Lifestyle Editor Australia
George Calombaris begs for support as his restaurants sit empty. Photo: ABC

An emotional George Calombaris has begged the public not to abandon his restaurants, after diners snubbed many of his establishments in the wake of his wage theft scandal.

In a teary interview with the ABC’s 7.30, the embattled former MasterChef judge pleaded with customers to return for the sake of his staff.

“I love the people that have worked for me and I don’t want them to suffer right now,” he told Leigh Sales with a shaky voice.

“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.”

Photos recently taken inside George's restaurants show them sitting virtually empty. Photo: Matrix

Of course, that hasn’t always been the case, and George was recently ordered to pay a $200,000 ‘contrition payment’ after already back paying 515 employees $7.83 million in underpaid wages.

Yahoo Lifestyle recently published photos taken at George’s various eateries, including Jimmy Grants in Sydney, and Melbourne restaurants, Hellenic, Republic, Gazi and Elektra, that showed them sitting mostly empty during the day.

Viewers aren’t impressed

Explaining himself to Leigh, George said that he was more focused on the ‘creative’ process, and ensuring he kept staff and customers inspired by the food he was serving, to notice that things weren’t correct in the back end.

He added however, that there was ‘no excuse’ for his actions, and that he takes full responsibility.

“I'm not here to blame anyone,” he said, “I take full responsibility for this. I'm sorry.”

Not all viewers were buying his apology however, and took to Twitter to express their disappointment.

“Don't believe a word you're saying, Calombaris,” one person said, while another wrote, “Celebrity crook Calombaris' mea culpa means zip.”

“George Calombaris has the audacity,” a third said, “$8mil for 524 is not a mistake. He acts like we all don’t have jobs and know how it works.”

Others turned their attention to Leigh, accusing her of going soft on the TV chef.

“I'm shocked Leigh Sales didn't offer Calombaris a foot massage last night #abc730, very remiss of her,” one person said.

Mystery surrounding MasterChef exodus

Just days after the ruling, it was revealed that George, along with his fellow MasterChef Australia judges, Gary Mehigan and Matt Preston, would not be returning to the cooking show, after 11 years with the franchise.

There has been no suggestion the two events are linked, with Network Ten instead putting the mass exodus down to an inability to “reach a commercial agreement that was satisfactory to Matt, Gary and George.”

It had been rumoured that the judges were negotiating a pay rise of up to 40 percent, but they have since come out to say it had nothing to do with money.

Taking to Instagram shortly after the announcement, Gary said, “It was never about the money and never will be about the money.

“We couldn’t agree on the term of the new contract for 2020 and season 12. Something we felt very strongly about.”

Meanwhile, Matt has come out to say that he was completely blindsided by the decision and had no idea until it was released to the public.

“It would probably have felt worse if I was by myself, but the fact I was with one of the publicists with Ten who had no idea and who was just aghast by the situation, especially about to go and do a national radio show, it was a bit of a shock,” he said on ABC radio this week.

“We’d agreed on the offer with Ten” he continued, “We’d sent a note back to their offer, we’d agreed to the financial terms. We’d agreed to make the next series of MasterChef, and it was the other terms that fell down.”

Wage theft scandal

Along with being fined and back paying his workers, George was also forced to become an ambassador for the Fair Work Commission, and must pay for audits in all his Australian restaurants.

It came after a four year investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman into George’s company, Made Establishment.

Staff from Made Establishment complained to the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2015, and in April 2017, the company put the underpayment figure at a much smaller $2.6 million.

They also said only 162 workers were affected by the ‘poor’ payment processes.

Apologising to staff last month, George said, “We apologise to all our affected team members, past and present - as it is our people that make our restaurants great, and it is our priority to ensure all of our employees feel respected, rewarded and supported in their roles.”

“We are committed to acting as a force for change in the industry and leading by example when it comes to building and promoting supportive, healthy and compliant hospitality workplaces.”

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