Working in restaurants has never been an easy gig, but it’s arguably tougher than ever to be in hospitality in Melbourne right now.

Eateries in Chinatown and beyond are suffering – even closing – due to lack of tourism and fears surrounding coronavirus. After reports of wage theft and financial issues, Heston Blumenthal’s high-profile fine diner Dinner by Heston closed last week.

And the news that restaurant group Made Establishment – of which George Calombaris is part-owner – is entering voluntary administration after underpaying staff $7.8 million means the future of 22 more restaurants, and the jobs of those who work in them, are in doubt.

One of those is Matt Wilkinson’s vegetable-forward diner Crofter, which opened to acclaim on January 10, just four weeks before administrator Kordamentha was called in.

Kordamentha announced on February 10 that all Made venues, including Elektra Dining Room, Gazi, Hellenic Republic Brighton, Hotel Argentina, and casual souvlaki chain Jimmy Grants, would cease trading immediately while sales were negotiated. Frozen-yoghurt brand Yo-Chi continues to operate as normal.

Wilkinson had hoped to purchase Crofter, but on Sunday the chef and part-owner announced in an Instagram post that he would be stepping away.

“It’s time to say thank you and goodbye. What a whirlwind it has been. Thank you to my staff, to the farmers, producers and suppliers, thank you to the many reviewers and especially thank you to the customers who in such a short time made it an amazing place,” he wrote in the post.

“I am angry and sad about this whole scenario. Angry that after 40 days of work of not seeing my wolf pack [family] I can’t make it work. Angry that the lies that consume big-business directors I feel will always be believed. Angry that the government can’t see our industry is in strife and offers no real support or future hope. Angry that individual smaller players in a cluster fuck like this will always lose biggest and I’m not just talking dollars.”

Earlier this year, Wilkinson sold his stake in Pope Joan, the bruncherie that put him on Melbourne’s culinary map. He’s currently creative director at Healesville distillery Four Pillars, and he co-owns The Pie Shop, which has locations in Brunswick East and the CBD.

An announcement is expected later this week from Kordamentha regarding the future of Crofter and the remainder of Made Establishment’s suite of restaurants.

“Crofter, thank you for allowing me to put vegetables first,” Wilkinson’s post ends. “And the small work I have been able to do with farmers.”

Broadsheet reached out to Wilkinson for comment but at the time of publishing has not received a response.

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It’s time to say thank you and goodbye. What a whirlwind it has been. Thank you to my staff, to the farmers, producers & suppliers, thank you to the many reviewers and especially thank you to the customers who in such a short time made it an amazing place. I am angry and sad about this whole scenario. Angry that after 40 days of work of not seeing my wolf pack I can’t make it work. Angry that the lies that consume big business directors I feel will always be believed, Angry that the government can’t see our industry is in strife and offers no real support or future hope. Angry that individual smaller players in a cluster fuck like this will always loose biggest and I’m not just talking dollars. Sad that @smalltalkpr @jodicrocker @weareracket @builtplus and many others worked so hard to bring @crofterdining to life and did not get paid, sad that we don’t put farmers first, sad that it ends here. Crofter, thank you for allowing me to put vegetables first and the small work I have been able to do with farmers. You will see me carrying this on but for now I’ll be @thepieshopmelb or @fourpillarsgin xxx

A post shared by Matt Wilkinson (@mrwilkinsons) on