Carlton’s Longhorn Saloon has been forced to close indefinitely after at least six residents in the adjacent apartment block complained to the council about noises and cooking smells from the venue’s exhausts.
The restaurant closed indefinitely on April 14 after an improvement notice was issued by the City of Melbourne on March 22. The venue was given three weeks to install new ventilation systems and reduce the amount of smoke it emitted (council officers had determined the emissions constituted a nuisance for local residents). The cost of work has been estimated at $100,000.
"Council is satisfied that the business has been given sufficient time to make the necessary changes," a spokesperson for Melbourne City Council told Broadsheet.
Co-owner Will Balleau has called the three-week deadline impossible to meet. He can appeal the decision, but the kitchen would need to remain closed until the matter is heard in court. Not closing the kitchen could result in a $93,000 fine and criminal charges. The steakhouse – which has a 400-person capacity – has passed all council inspections since it opened in 2015, Balleau says.
Balleau expressed his frustrations to staff members in a letter sent on April 13, and shared with Broadsheet.
“Although I am allowed to dispute the Council’s charges and prepare a defense, I must obey the Council’s order in the time it takes a Magistrate to make a determination. This means that we have to close the venue or make the changes before a judge determines whether or not the Council’s order to make changes is lawful. If I wait to hear what a Magistrate says before addressing the notice I am automatically guilty of a crime – not a civil infringement, a crime. “
The council has denied requests from Balleau and his lawyers to freely provide examples of the evidence being used to justify the infringement notice. Instead it has suggested the information is acquired through the Freedom of Information Act which could take up to 45 days.
Residents of the nearby building spoke to the Age about their grievances.
“You can smell the steaks, the cooking fats and oil and grease that gets vapourised in the air,” resident Austin Hall said. “They do cooking over flames, there’s burning fat and the smell of barbeque ribs. It gets into your clothing, furniture and upholstery.
Unlike its sister venue Le Bon Ton, Longhorn Saloon does not serve ribs.
“To each staff member who helped to make Longhorn what it was – thank you. I’m truly sorry I that can’t continue the fight," Balleau says in his letter. "I simply don’t have any more options ... I just don’t know what else to do.
“We cook steaks. We fry chips. We serve sandwiches … Nothing about our kitchen equipment, our exhaust system, or our food preparation technique is unusual, defective or unique to Longhorn. We are just a typical kitchen cooking typical food.”
Additional reporting by Callum McDermott