“We want to make it clear that the comments made in the podcast and in the article in the Sydney Morning Herald were not intended at our staff, or directed at them individually or as a whole,” begins the statement released today by Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham, owners of the Sydney-based Mary’s burger empire.

The statement comes in response to an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday with the headline: “Sydney hospitality gurus unload on ‘whining, self-entitled’ young workers.”

“Do the youngsters who wait tables and pour drinks at bars and restaurants need a reality check? Absolutely, say no-nonsense Sydney hospitality gurus Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham,” it begins.

“The Mary’s Group founders, owners of the Lansdowne and Unicorn hotels and the popular Mary’s venues, have unloaded on ‘whining’ and ‘self-entitled’ young workers, arguing the industry has over-corrected from its previous tyranny by indulging lazy behaviour and bad attitudes.”

The comments cited in the article came from a recent episode of The Fat – A Mary’s Podcast. Smyth and Graham also discussed “cancel culture” and talked about young workers, mental health and work-life balance.

Their remarks sparked a barrage of outrage on social media, with many commenters saying Smyth and Graham were being unfair and insensitive – especially given how many workers have lost their jobs and are experiencing tough times due to Covid-19.

Others criticised the article itself for being unbalanced.

Smyth went on Triple J’s Hack yesterday to defend the comments, and then released the public statement.

“[The remarks] were aimed at a collection of stories and comments that we hear on a weekly basis from our staff, managers, chefs and other restaurant owners about a small minority of people across multiple industries,” it says.

“To be clear, our staff are the reason that Mary’s has come to be what it is. Its strength is them, its purpose is them, and we love them all deeply.

“There are some staff who agree with our comments, there are others who have been deeply hurt by them. To those who agree, thank you for the support and kindness over the past few hours. To those hurt, we apologise for what has been framed to be a public shaming. This is not what was intended.”

The duo, who say in the statement they started in the hospitality industry at 15, were also criticised for their comments about young workers and mental-health issues.

“Our podcast discussion did not call out our staff, or even the industry. Rather, it was to call out a disruptive minority attitude that seeks to lay the issues of work-life balance and mental health solely at the feet of employers. This attitude is poisonous to all involved. It is reprehensible to suggest that people are not able to hold their own agency.”

Read the full statement here.