Australia’s Dinner by Heston owes workers $4.5m

The parent company of Melbourne’s Dinner by Heston, which went into voluntary liquidation in December, allegedly owes staff at least AU$4.5 million, a creditors’ report has found.

The report, which was obtained by The Age and the Sydney Morning Heraldrevealed that Dinner by Heston had been consistently underpaying its workers since it opened in the Crown Casino in 2015.

Tipsy Cake, the company that owns the Australian Dinner by Heston, entered voluntary liquidation in December 2019. The company is based on the Caribbean island and tax haven of Nevis, and its ownership details are hidden.

After an initial report detailing staff underpayment published in The Age in December 2018, Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman launched an investigation.

Tipsy Cake’s liquidation in December 2019 came just days after the deadline ombudsman had set for the repayment of staff debts.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the provisional liquidator, BRI Ferrier, has said in its report that the $4.47m owned to workers is “‘in reality’ understated by an ‘unknown factor’ because it was an ongoing process to calculate what they were owed”.

The figure is formed of at least $4.044m in historic underpayments together with a further $435,000 in accrued entitlements following the closure of the business.

It was also established that Crown Casino paid the Bacon and Egg Ice Cream Limited, a business related to Tipsy Cake, $1.97 million a year for rights to the restaurant’s intellectual property.

The takings from Dinner by Heston were paid into a bank account operated by Crown Casino, and the casino charged the restaurant a nominal rent of $1 per year.

A Crown Casino spokesperson called Tipsy Cake “a tenant of Crown”, which was “responsible for its own operations and employed its own staff”.

The statement read: “Tipsy Cake has asked the court to appoint a liquidator, on the basis that it is insolvent. In these circumstances, Crown has taken steps to bring the tenancy to an end. As the winding-up application is now before the court, Crown will not be making any further comment concerning the liquidator’s appointment.”

Blumenthal has not owned a restaurant since 2006. He is not a shareholder in any of the companies linked to his name and cooking style.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, a federal court hearing dealing with the terms of the provisional liquidation of Tipsy Cake will now take place next week.

It follows news of the departure of head chef Ashley Palmer-Watts from Heston Blumenthal’s UK restaurant empire at the end of December. Palmer-Watts had worked alongside Blumenthal for almost 20 years, after starting as sous chef at Bray-based The Fat Duck in 2001.

During his tenure, the restaurant rose to gain three Michelin stars.

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