On Monday, October 2, Melbourne museum ACMI announced the immediate closure of its flagship Federation Square diner, Hero. The news came as a surprise to many – including the duo behind the restaurant, Michael Gebran and Karen Martini.
Gebran (Sydney Opera House, The Grounds of Alexandria) and celebrity chef, cookbook writer and restaurateur Martini are partners in Hospitality M, a company that until yesterday had the license to operate Hero.
Speaking to Broadsheet from the restaurant space on Monday evening, managing director Gebran said he found out Hospitality M’s contract had been terminated when ACMI released a press release announcing the news.
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“They didn’t give us a chance to tell our staff – they all found out via ACMI channels,” he said, clearly shattered. He noted that business partner Martini was “in shock”.
“For them nothing changes,” Gebran said to Broadsheet, referring to ACMI. “For us, it changes our whole life. It’s destroyed our livelihood.
In a video posted on Instagram Gebran explained that he had “been working with ACMI on a strategy to drive revenue and increase visitation”, but that “ACMI made a decision today. Without any notice, they’ve closed us down.” He apologised to staff, business partners and customers, and thanked them for supporting Hero over the years.
“They [ACMI] sent out a press release advising that this was an amicable exit, but we aren’t sure how amicable it is,” he added.
“We are currently obtaining legal advice as to our options moving forward, including to recover loss and damage occasioned by ACMI’s conduct,” Gebran said in a separate statement to Broadsheet on Monday night.
He later elaborated by phone that the contract was supposed to be negotiated every five years, with the option for Hero to remain at the site for 15 years.
In a statement sent via email on Wednesday afternoon, ACMI director and CEO Seb Chan said Hero’s closure was the result of Hospitality M “being in breach of its contract”. Chan also stated the museum and Hospitality M had been in discussions to renegotiate the contract for the past few months.
“Since Hero opened in November 2020, ACMI has provided ongoing support for Hospitality M – including payment concessions and multiple contract renegotiations – to help Hero in the face of ongoing challenges to the hospitality sector across the city,” Chan added. “Unfortunately, Hospitality M has been unable to meet its legal and financial obligations under the agreement and has accrued significant unpaid debt.”
Gebran says future Hero reservations, orders with suppliers and events (including a wedding planned for the end of the year) have now been cancelled.
Broadsheet has also reached out to Karen Martini for comment.
The press release ACMI issued on Monday stated that a new food and drink offering will be announced soon.
Hero officially opened in 2020, after the museum underwent a $40 million renovation – but, due to Covid lockdowns, it effectively opened in March 2021.
Architect Chris Connell designed the 150-seat space, with its cool, monochromatic colour scheme, and minimalist portraits of stars from music, film and art (Nick Cave, Deborah Mailman, Kylie Minogue and David Byrne) linked to ACMI’s screen-culture focus.
“I’ve always wanted to be in the CBD,” Martini told Broadsheet at the time, “but it’s a really different place at the moment … It was a vibrant place, and it will be again, but it’s just blossoming again now.”
The restaurant, as well as ACMI’s cinema-adjacent snack bar, coffee cart and event spaces, were run by Hospitality M.
“Rather than working with us to drive traffic and increase visitation, they’ve just gone and found someone else,” says Gebran.
This story was updated on October 4 to include a statement from ACMI director and CEO Seb Chan.