A struggling restaurant on Channel 7 nightmares in the kitchen had to close its doors shortly after filming after succumbing to “financial hardship”.
The Australian reality programme, hosted by celebrity chef Colin Fassnidge, follows a string of ailing local restaurants undergoing a dramatic makeover over the course of five days in hopes of reversing their fortunes.
Yesterday, Virginia Cheong, the owner of Cafe de Vie in Homebush, featured in episode five, made headlines after slamming the show and claiming she turned her venue into a “joke”.
And now it has emerged that another restaurant featured in last night’s episode closed almost immediately after filming wrapped.
In an emotional July 6 Facebook post, Anthony Davies and his partner Lauren Crisell – the owners of Araucaria restaurant in Winmalee in the NSW Blue Mountains – announced “with a heavy heart” that they are no longer running the bistro due to “financial reasons”. would harden” after a little more than a year in operation.
“We gave it our all, we gave it our all, and we hope that showed in our seasonal menus, customer service and energy,” the couple wrote.
“Anyone who saw Anthony and his team in the kitchen knew he gave a million percent every day – even to the point of exhaustion and at the expense of his health… We are devastated that we couldn’t make it for you all .”
The couple left the bistro months before this week’s episode aired, making the painful decision after going bankrupt with $140,000 in debt.
In fact, the episode revealed that Mr. Davies even sold his car for $8,000, which was immediately used to pay employees overdue wages after the couple’s business account fell into the red.
Mr Davies told news.com.au that he didn’t blame the show for the closure and said a five-day makeover was not enough to fix fundamental business problems.
But he also hit out at some of the program’s advice, claiming it made “absolutely no improvements.”
“Six weeks into filming we were about to close – we just hobbled along and went into the whole process hoping an explosion might help,” Davies said.
“It was $10,000 a week to run the business and during lockdown it was easy because it was all take out so we knew exactly how much to cook as it was all pre-orders.
“After the first lockdown, when we were able to dine in person again, we had no problem making $12,000-$15,000 a week, so we were in profit.
“But after the second lockdown we never saw much more than $9000 so we had losses and after sustaining that loss for three months we couldn’t sustain it any longer.”
He said the show gave the restaurant a welcome facelift, but he disagreed with the menu changes introduced.
“The show seemed to imply that we didn’t put much effort into the ‘pub playlist’ menu – things like burgers, schnitzel and beer batter fish. But the only thing we brought into the kitchen was bread and fries, we made everything else ourselves,” said Mr Davies.
“I think that was a source of tension that they tried to cultivate more than anything for the show.
“The guidance from them was to pay more attention to the basics and not high-end items – the involvement was that we were covered in some plates and awards. But we just tried to be different from all the other pubs in the mountains.”
He said he “absolutely disagrees” with that aspect of the feedback.
“There was no lack of effort. I saw those things – the pub classics – as things that we needed to have on the menu, and then I tried to do things that we didn’t necessarily need to have to be different,” he continued.
“We started filming in the middle of real financial distress. I thought they were seriously helping by looking at the expenses and managing the books better – I didn’t necessarily think we needed them to help with the meals.
“We had a menu with no garlic bread, no bruschetta, but things like chicken terrine. They hinted that we went too far with some dishes but I feel they absolutely failed to provide some pub staples with the menu that was handed to us.
“At the end of the day they suggested a format that they thought would work best, but I found it difficult to get my bearings – little things like serving salmon, which is fine, but with a mix of wild leaves like Baby Cos and Wild Arugula—which we served at a time when a head of iceberg lettuce was $12 a head in the grocery store.
“It was as expensive an ingredient as the salmon on the dish.
“They also had a schnitzel crumb that was good and tasted delicious, don’t get me wrong, but we would have been selling 30-40kg of schnitzel a week and suddenly we went from a really cheap crumb that met all expectations, to a very expensive one crumbs. I was open to the suggestions they came up with, but it wasn’t about the cost of groceries.
“I feel like they missed the mark on the pub menu.”
A prologue to last night’s episode confirmed that while Araucaria’s new menu “continued to be a hit post-relaunch,” the “financial and emotional drain proved too much for the family.”
Mr Fassnidge also addressed Araucaria’s closure in a recent TikTok, saying the series “shows all aspects of what can go wrong in this current climate” and describing Araucaria’s experience as “a very sad one”.
Meanwhile, Mr Davies, who attributed the closure to the dramatically reduced post-Omicron patronage as well as the unique pressures and high costs facing the hospitality industry, said he had “no resentment or malice” towards it nightmares in the kitchen.
“Colin and the production team were really nice people and very professional. I don’t blame them at all – the restaurant would probably close anyway in three weeks or ten weeks because we had suffered so much financial loss and supplier debt that it wasn’t feasible anymore,” he said.
“It was all caused by the drop in customer numbers – there are a lot of fixed costs in running a restaurant. You have to provide a certain level of service and some Friday and Saturday nights we’ve had 110, 120 bosses but others we’ve had 30 or 40 so how can you line up for that variation?
“It was very challenging, especially going bankrupt and losing a significant amount of money. It’s never good for a relationship, but we managed to pull through, so that’s a positive outcome.”
But he added that he found some advice “confusing”.
“I have no ill will toward the show. They came in and did what they thought was right. I think food production is such a personal thing and you’re not always going to agree,” he said. “But I found some confusing posts. And at the end of the day, it takes a lot more than a week of flattery and a new menu to bail out a business when basic things don’t work.”
Mr Davies has since found work in the kitchen at a major resort in the Blue Mountains and said he was grateful he was also able to bring two Araucaria apprentices with him, which he said was “the decent thing for them to do during the bankruptcy process”.
His comments come from Virginia Cheong, the owner of Cafe de Vie in Homebush, which was renamed Cafe Tabouli during his own nightmares in the kitchen Makeover, claimed the program ultimately cost her thousands of dollars in business.
She told news.com.au they saw a $6000 drop in sales in the first week after reopening the store under the rebranded Cafe Tabouli name.
“Slowly, people came back and we were able to come back, nowhere near, but we’re better than before,” Ms. Cheong said.
“However, we’ve lowered all prices, so our margins, if they were bad before, they’re even worse now.”
News.com.au contacted Channel 7 for comment.
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