By James Atkinson
Wine suppliers that are among the creditors of the failed Becasse group have spoken exclusively to TheShout about the recent spate of high-profile restaurant closures.
As well as being owed money by Becasse, Cellarhand has been badly affected by several other restaurant closures in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, director Patrick Walsh told TheShout.
While he stressed that he feels very bad for Justin North and his staff, Walsh said many of the premium wine suppliers affected by the fine dining closures are very small and cannot continue to absorb these losses.
He said he is concerned at the lack of accountability that appears to be a recurring theme in the restaurant industry.
"Without getting into condemning particular individuals, I think it's unfortunate if these sorts of things happen and then in six, nine or 12 months' time some of those people re-emerge like a Phoenix rising from the ashes and open another restaurant and are celebrated by the food media," he said.
Walsh said Cellarhand has Retention of Title clauses and various protections in place in all its agreements with restaurants.
"Yet as soon as an administrator or a liquidator is in the picture, none of those are worth the pieces of paper they are written on," he said.
"Surely in a scenario where a restaurant goes broke, and there is stock sitting in their wine storeroom that has not yet been paid for and a supplier has got a written Retention of Title, surely it should be a very straightforward thing… why is it that we would not be allowed to go and collect our stock?"
But Walsh stressed that it is "not all doom and gloom" in the on-premise sector.
"There's plenty of scope for optimism. We have a lot of very good customers who do the right thing and pay their bills and there's never a drama," he said.
Samuel Smith & Son NSW general manager Greg Pullen told TheShout the closures "signal worrying times for on-premise".
"We're very cautious the way we do business in that sector. We're very careful, especially with start-up restaurants, what sort of credit limits we put on them and we monitor what's selling and what's not selling."
"We try not to overstock anyone because otherwise you're digging your own grave."
Pullen said trade has been more resilient in mid-tier restaurants as people choose less expensive dining options.