Sydney hospitality giant Merivale is opening its first Melbourne venue.

In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon, the group announced it had purchased the 1853-built Tomasetti House, a brick and bluestone building at 277 Flinders Lane in the CBD.

“Melbourne is a very special city, with a unique energy and an inimitable soul,” Merivale owner and CEO Justin Hemmes said in the statement. “Its local hospitality industry is one of the best in the world, brimming with creative culinary talent and supported by a passionate community of diners. We are honoured to open our first venue in Melbourne and cannot wait to work alongside so many local industry greats.”

Merivale operates more than 80 venues in Sydney, including well-regarded restaurants Mr Wong, Totti’s, Mimi’s and Fred’s, as well as a number of bars and precincts such as Coogee Pavilion and Ivy in the CBD. And Hemmes recently announced the opening of the group’s first venue outside Sydney, in Narooma on the NSW South Coast.

Some of Australia’s most celebrated chefs are in Merivale kitchens, including Danielle Alvarez, Dan Hong, Mike Eggert and Jordan Toft.

But this bricks-and-mortar entrance into the Melbourne market comes after a plan to launch home delivery in Melbourne during the second lockdown last year was put on ice following backlash from the struggling local hospitality industry. “Merivale choosing this time for its first foray into Australia’s hospitality capital is at best tone-deaf, and at worst opportunistic,” Black Pearl general manager Matt Linklater told Broadsheet at the time. “Now more than ever is the time to support local, otherwise … all the rich tapestry of Melbourne hospitality will be well and truly lost.”

There’s also currently a class action in the Federal Court pertaining to alleged underpayment that could force Merivale to back pay workers as much as $129 million.

While Merivale is one of Australia’s largest hospitality groups, the business started in fashion and has significant holdings in real estate – in particular pubs, hotels and residential property. In 2019 the Hemmes family wealth reached more than $1 billion, propelling the CEO higher in the Australia’s Financial Review’s Rich List.

Hemmes has big plans for Sydney’s CBD, too. He presented ideas to a NSW parliamentary inquiry around reviving the city’s night-time economy and bringing back entertainment and dancing to a city badly affected by the lockout laws and Covid lockdowns.

Merivale gets the keys to its first Melbourne venue, at 277 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, later this year. More details will be announced soon.