Once a cult Italian chain where desperate patrons queued outside to snag a table, Criniti’s’ downfall has been swift and serious, as the new owner is accused of posting five-star reviews to bolster its tarnished reputation .
Frank Criniti and his wife Rima founded the chain in 2003 at the age of 23 in Parramatta, west Sydney.
They ran an upscale restaurant that used flashy motorcycles for decoration, stylish surroundings, delicious food, and dedicated service.
One franchise even offered free shuttle service to nearby ferries in a Rolls-Royce.
But a messy divorce between the couple resulted in the enterprising Rima leaving Criniti’s entirely.
Frank managed to keep the chain going until 2019 before more than $16.5 million in debt caught up with him.
Seven Criniti locations were eventually purchased by Raj Patel and his Brunelli Group for just $1 million in November 2019 and eventually reopened in August 2022 following the end of the Covid pandemic.
Rima Criniti (above) said she’s “embarrassed” by what has become of famed Italian restaurant chain Criniti’s since they were booted out of business through divorce in 2019
Frank Criniti (above) relinquished ownership of the company after racking up more than $16.5 million in debt and was barred from running another company until 2023
Raj Patel (above) and his Brunelli Group bought seven Criniti locations for just $1 million in November 2019
Patel bought the ailing family-owned chain after it went bankrupt and was forced to close seven of its 13 stores in New South Wales and Victoria.
The Brunelli Group kept the remaining six locations open – including its flagship waterfront restaurant in Darling Harbour.
Criniti’s also introduced two new restaurants with locations in Sydney’s Castle Hill, Parramatta, Brighton-Le-Sands, Wetherill Park and Darling Harbour, Newcastle’s Kotara, Perth’s Carousel and Melbourne’s Carlton and Southbank.
But its reopening, Too Much Fanfare, has been plagued by poor reviews, with longtime fans claiming the food and service have gone downhill.
Hundreds of reviews left by disappointed customers called the food, service and shop conditions “disgusting” and nothing like the “old days”.
Other longtime customers complained that prices had skyrocketed while quality deteriorated and portions shrunk.
“I would give 0 (stars) if I could. This place is an absolute disgrace. Food is microwaved frozen, staff look like zombies but cocktails were good,” one person wrote.
“We ordered a garlic and shrimp pizza. We didn’t know that we have to cut the garlic ourselves.
“Avoid this place, there are so nice restaurants in Sydney. Criniti’s is not one of them.”
A recent Google reviewer posted a photo of his pizza with cloves full of garlic on it
Another particularly brutal review for Criniti’s Darling Harbor came on November 16th, written by “Local Guide” Anthony Grice.
“I’m not sure what makes Critini’s such a beacon? It’s certainly all show,” he wrote.
“It’s a shame that Sydney residents think it’s worth eating here, as evidenced by the people mistakenly waiting for a table when it’s not full and dressed up as if they’re in go to a nightclub???
“Once I sat down I couldn’t even bother with the very packed menu, again it took me great strength to tune out the distracting loud music to even read the menu…there is no table service, we had to do it consistently Call the staff again, I don’t care where you are, Sydney’s restaurants really drop the ball…it’s a basic hospo.
Criniti’s in Darling Harbor (pictured) has been peppered with bad reviews, one particularly harsh being branded a ‘nightclub’.
‘On the way out to pay for which you have to get the bill yourself I got the absolutely rough experience as he couldn’t understand me and I didn’t hear a freaking word they said.
“Summary: I thought I was in a nightclub, the menu is an IKEA how-to booklet, if you don’t eat for a week you can finish your meals, and as a tourist off the motorway not breathing the Sydney air, has Darling Harbor lost perspective on basic hospitality skills seems to survive only among tourists.’
The brand’s ratings plummeted until last month, when customers noticed a spate of five-star reviews.
A viral video on TikTok showed dozens of reviews left by Google accounts, with some even repeating the same misspelling multiple times.
The video accused the brand of buying the positive reviews to boost its score on Google.
Criniti’s account, who was tagged in the video, responded by blocking the poster.
Many of the reviews have been deleted since the video was uploaded, including one from a “Raj Patel,” the same name as the person who bought the Criniti chain in 2019.
Criniti’s reviews have recently been overtaken by five-star ratings with little to no history on the account and often without explanation
Criniti’s careers manager, Kathy Criniti, vehemently denied the restaurant uses bots to boost Google reviews, saying its poor reviews only reflected some customers’ experiences.
“With 30,000 bookings a week and counting, it’s inevitable that there will be some (bad) feedback here and there,” she told Daily Mail Australia.
“Especially in this age of reviews and social presence where we as consumers depend on Google reviews.
Criniti’s popularity has not wavered, nor has our presence and viability in the hospitality industry. With this in mind, our growing number is a testament to the positive attitude and as a group we cannot continue to grow without the feedback, be it positive or negative.”
Former co-founder Rima Criniti said she has continued to eat in stores but has been “embarrassed” to be associated with what has become of the once iconic brand.
Criniti’s used to be known for flashy motorcycles and cars, stylish ambience, delicious food and dedicated service
“It hurt so much to see the store close but when someone stepped in to bring it to life I was like ‘wow’,” she told the Daily Telegraph in September.
“I had lost it, yes, but I wanted someone who would make me proud of what Frank and I created.”
Ms Criniti is now working to build another company while her ex-husband has a year to go on a five-year management ban after seven more of his companies went under.
CRINITI’S RESTAURANTS REVIEWS
Brighton Le Sands: 3.8/5 out of 56 reviews
Many reviews highlight the good service and great views, but say the food could be better. Recent reviewers said their meals were “greasy”, overpriced and took too long to be served.
paramattHas: 3.7/5 from 1,383 reviews
Recent reviews say the food is overpriced and below average. Several reviews came from former Criniti fans who said they were “disappointed” with the quality of the new owner.
Darling Harbour: 3.1/5 out of 2,391 reviews
Criniti’s flagship store has received the harshest criticism of all. Customers criticize the hygiene, “disgusting” food and poor service, noting that the staff seem like they “don’t want to be there”.
castle hill: 3.2/5 out of 1,247 reviews
This Criniti’s is attuned to lovers and haters alike. Many people appreciate the restaurant’s great atmosphere and family/group-friendly setting. Most negative comments blame “poor service” for their experience.
Wetherill Park: 3.7/5 out of 481 reviews
Most of the restaurant’s recent reviews are positive, citing delicious food and friendly staff as two selling points.
Carlton: 3.6/5 from 1,648 reviews
This restaurant seems to be a fan favorite with many raving about the food and service. However, negative comments say that the meals are not worth the high price.
south bank: 3.3/5 out of 2,271 reviews
Many customers say the location is this Criniti’s highlight due to the lack of service and food. One person called their experience “regrettable”, while many said the waiters were too “slow”.
Kotara: 3.6/5 out of 914 reviews
Many people applauded the food at this Criniti’s but slammed the “terrible” service. One customer wrote: “Why go to Karen’s Diner when you can go to Criniti’s Newcastle?!”
Carousel: 3.4/5 out of 481 reviews
This store has had mostly positive reviews over the last month with many saying the store has delicious food and a great space for groups. Only criticism is that the food is overpriced.
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