Eager boss with ties to the legendary Syd gay club

Eager boss with ties to the legendary Syd gay club

Staff at a Sydney restaurateur who was COO of the company they say failed to pay pensions and tips have blasted their former boss for his involvement in the reopening of a legendary Sydney gay club when he was recruiting new staff.

Popular Sydney nightclub ARQ fell victim to the Covid pandemic and has been closed since 2020. The 1,230-square-foot site on Oxford Street also went up for sale in September 2021 for $50 million.

After two attempts to sell the site, it has now fallen under the management of embattled Sydney restaurateur Mark Richerdson and his company Kings Experience PTY LTD, with a reopening slated for early December 2022.

However, recruitment efforts for the revamped venue have been angered by staff at Mr Richerdson’s last venture, Barangaroo restaurant Bel & Brio, who are still awaiting unpaid wages and other payments after the Italian restaurant group unexpectedly closed last month.

Employees remain unpaid after unexpected closure

Mr. Richerdson was listed as Bel & Brio’s chief operating officer when the multi-premises Barangaroo store was closed by its landlord, Lendlease, in October due to $1.8 million in outstanding unpaid rent.

In the days that followed, several Bel & Brio employers spoke to news.com.au and complained about unpaid pensions and tips, late wages, missed payments from suppliers and contractors and criticism of the lack of communication surrounding Mr Richerdson’s and the closure Management.

With many Bel & Brio employees relying on visa sponsorships to stay in Australia, the sudden job closure also threatened their future in the country.

Employees are also short of tens of thousands in pension payments.

In an earlier comment to news.com.au, Mr Richerdson claimed management was “caught by the closure” which took place during a pay week.

Although he said that “everyone will get everything they’re due,” employees say they haven’t received their last fortnight’s pay in the three weeks since Bel & Brio closed.

He also said problems with suppliers and contractors only became apparent “during and after Covid”, claims Bel & Brio staff have contradicted.

“Every business, especially in the hospitality industry, has had problems,” Richerdson said.

“I’ve always maintained strong relationships with suppliers, I’m so grateful for their flexibility, like if we didn’t have stock we couldn’t trade.”

When asked about missing super payments, Mr Richerdson said he was “personally hit with a pension guarantee” by the ATO.

That means he failed to pay the minimum amount of Super to eligible employees, which currently stands at 10.5 percent of gross pay.

“We’re currently introducing a monthly payment plan to ensure everyone gets everything they’re entitled to,” he said.

“Directors are permanently liable for superpayments, so I am personally liable and will pay them.”

Though he blamed “superpayment issues as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns,” his staff claim it’s a long-standing problem.

In documents viewed by news.com.au, the super balance of one employee who was with the company was just $1766.86. He estimates it should be closer to $35,000.

The “anger” of former employees about new ventures

Amid ongoing wage disputes between Mr Richerdson and Bel & Brio employees, former employees lashed out at a Facebook post looking for bar staff at ARQ.

A post shared on Wednesday night by a Kings Experience staffer said the revamped venue was looking for “full-time, experienced and energetic bar staff so we can revitalize Sydney’s nightlife with a bang”.

The post was eventually deleted after being inundated with negative comments from former Bel & Brio employees who urged caution on the part of potential suitors.

Peter*, who left Bel & Brio in 2021, said seeing the job posting shared on Facebook and jobs site Indeed sent him into a “deep state of anger and disillusionment.” He said he learned of Mr. Richerdson’s involvement in ARQ after hearing him “brag about his business skills” while working with him.

“It’s not fair for someone to work there if they are unaware of the situation. They want to try to save her,” he told news.com.au.

“I loved my job, but in this environment it felt like I was begging for my salary to be paid on time. It ruins your mood and the mental health consequences haven’t been great.

“It’s just very annoying that he’s trying to set up another venue. This guy thinks he’s invincible and that’s really bothering me right now.”

Another staffer, who spoke to news.com.au on condition of anonymity, said he was glad Sydney’s close-knit hospitality community had been warned about the claims made against Mr Richerdson.

“He still owes us a lot of money… It’s pretty bad,” he said.

“For the sake of the employers, we (ex-employees) really don’t want him to hire anyone. He shouldn’t be able to do business.”

Bel & Brio boss’ connection to ARQ has been revealed

ARQ nightclub and formerly Sydney’s longest running gay sauna Bodyline are now managed by a company called Kings Experience PTY LTD.

Mr. Richerdson was incorporated on November 29, 2021 and is listed as a director.

News.com.au also understands Mr Richerdson spent around $4million on the deal, which includes a refurbishment of the venue.

This publication has contacted Mr Richerdson and Kings Experience for comment, however they have not responded at the time of publication.

Documents seen by news.com.au also link the nightclub’s sole owner, Shadd Daniel Danesi, to the company.

A company named Blackberry Group PTY LTD was incorporated on 1 July 2022 and listed Mr Danesi and Mr Richerdson as directors.

On 18 August 2022, changes to the Members Register showed that 100 shares were transferred from Mark Richerdson & Co PTY LTD to Kings Experience & Co Pty Ltd.

Legal representatives acting on behalf of Mr Danesi told news.com.au that Mr Danesi and Kehoe Pty Ltd (the owner of ARQ Sydney) “are in no way affiliated with Bel & Brio and never have been”.

Hard-fought employees speak out

Following the closure of Bel & Brio on October 29, many of the group’s 140 employees have been vocal about allegations of financial mismanagement by the company. A worker who finished his shift on Friday before the restaurant closed said staff were notified of the incident due to a sign left by Lendlease which read: ‘To whom it concerns: Please note that the landlord has control of the premises.”

“We have not received any texts or emails saying the restaurant is closed. We found out from someone who was working,” senior executive Nicholas* told news.com.au.

“Instead, management sent a note saying the restaurant was closed for the weekend and ‘let’s see what the roster will be next week, have a great weekend and take two days off’.”

Employees have also yet to receive their last fortnight’s pay, with numerous employees claiming that tips – collected and split between workers – have been withheld for at least the last four months.

However, Mr Richerdson claims that all tips were paid for by the venues. Instead, he says only service fees used as a claim when business was good have been discontinued.

“It’s always been a privilege that a payments clerk doesn’t get,” he said.

Another former employee, Christopher*, said it was only during the 2020 Covid pandemic that he realized he was not receiving mandatory superpayments, when workers were given the option of early access to their pension in cases of financial hardship.

“It said he paid it on the payslip but no one noticed until Covid came along. Then the rule came out that you could take up to $10,000 in annuity, so everyone tried and everyone found out there was nothing in it,” says Christopher.

When those demands were made of Mr Richerdson, he said he was “personally and permanently liable” for the amount owed and said he would put in place a “monthly payment schedule to ensure everyone receives all that is owed to them”.

So far, employees say they have yet to receive those funds.

*Names have been changed

Learn more? Contact us at Jessica.wang@news.com.au

Read related topics:Sydney

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