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George Calombaris to sell Toorak mansion as food empire faces collapse

The decision to sell the family house comes after the celebrity chef listed his Safety Beach weekender on the Mornington Peninsula for sale last year. His property portfolio also includes a $2.2 million home in Arthurs Seat on the peninsula.

The potential collapse of the business comes after Made Establishment was hit by a major underpayment scandal and a tsunami of negative media coverage.

George Calombaris is selling his Toorak house as his hospitality empire faces collapse.

George Calombaris is selling his Toorak house as his hospitality empire faces collapse.Credit:Simon Schluter

Made Establishment was ordered to make a large contrition payment after underpaying $7.83 million in wages to 515 current and former employees.

In recent months, Made Establishment had embarked on a major rebranding exercise as Calombaris stepped back as the figurehead of four high-profile venues within the group.

In December, Hellenic Hotel in Williamstown was relaunched as Hotel Argentina, while Hellenic Kew transformed into an Italian restaurant, Vita. Hellenic Republic in Brunswick East re-opened as Crofter Dining in mid-January.

The business also owns Melbourne CBD venue Gazi, souvlaki chain Jimmy Grants, the Yo-Chi frozen yoghurt stores and Calombaris’ flagship fine dining establishment, Press Club, which became Elektra Dining in October.

Inside the Hellenic Republic restaurant in Kew.

Inside the Hellenic Republic restaurant in Kew.Credit:Guy Lavoipierre

An administrator could be forced to offload unprofitable outlets, while some venues could be offered to existing operators.

Calombaris, who left his role as a star judge on MasterChef  last year, did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday.

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In July last year, he was ordered to make a $200,000 “contrition payment” as part of an unprecedented deal with the Fair Work Ombudsman. All former and current staff were reimbursed.

At the time, facing a vicious backlash on social media, Calombaris told the ABC he was “gutted” and took full responsibility for the scandal, but vowed to maintain his embattled empire and protect hundreds of jobs.

“We aren’t closing our restaurants, we’re here. And it’s my job as their leader to keep pushing forward and keep speaking this message, not shying away from the mistake we made, but also acknowledging that we fixed it,” he told the 7.30 program.

“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.”

Multimillionaire Radek Sali, the former chief executive of Swisse vitamins, made an ill-fated foray into the hospitality industry when he took a major stake in Calombaris’ restaurants in 2016. However, within months a string of payroll discrepancies were identified and the Fair Work Ombudsman opened a major investigation.

At the time, Mr Sali said he was “prepared for a few potholes in the books” when he first invested, but was unaware that hundreds of staff had been ripped off.

With Gemima Cody

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