Pialligo Estate’s financiers have taken possession of the property as staff, clients and suppliers await news on whether they will be completely out of pocket.
The Pialligo restaurant and function business’s owner, John Russell, issued a statement last night (28 March) saying that last-minute negotiations to weather the financial storm had failed and that the iconic operation had officially ceased trading after initially closing the doors late last week.
Today (29 March) the gates and fence were adorned with a possession notice naming CRC1 Pty Ltd as the lender and the owner of the land, and three locksmiths’ vans were in the driveway.
Mortgage loan and recovery specialists Summer Lawyers are handling the matter but would not comment.
No details are available about Pialligo Estate’s exact financial situation, such as how much it owes and to whom.
The property and business are now expected to be sold.
It has been a devastating time for everyone at Pialligo Estate, none more so than operations manager Wayne Alger, who worked for free over the weekend to deliver four weddings, hoping that a way could be found to keep the business trading.
“I did that by myself to get those couples over the line on the understanding I wouldn’t get paid on the weekend and uncertain as to what this week would look like,” he said.
Mr Alger said he could not say how many staff were affected by the closure, but the many facets of the business involved a lot of people.
He was in limbo like everybody else.
“What happens to the staff will also happen to me,” he said.
Mr Alger, who has had to deal with anxious clients, was awaiting clarity on staff entitlements and the deposits taken for forward bookings.
He said Mr Russell had been working to ensure those commitments could be honoured in negotiations with the financiers.
“I know that was one of the driving factors in why John was fighting so hard till the last minute to continue trading,” he said.
The land and business were likely to be sold, and Mr Alger hoped it would stay in local hands, saying the Canberra market may challenge an interstate buyer.
“You could open the doors and trade tomorrow if you bought it tonight,” he said.
If it were sold, he and key staff would happily return if the new owner operated it in a similar fashion or wanted to drive to a higher level.
“The estate for us was a unique opportunity and that’s what we thrived on,” Mr Alger said.
For many people, it was a passion and they poured themselves into the business on and off the job, such as developing skills in their own time to take the Estate forward.
Mr Alger said if the business – which also included the fruit and vegetable gardens, vineyard, olive grove and smokehouse – were broken up, it would just be another restaurant.
“I’ve always described it as an ecosystem; everything relied on everything else,” he said.
Feeling the shockwaves at Pialligo is Bisonhome owner Brian Tunks whose business trades at the Plot at Pialligo on Beltana Street, which is linked to John Russell.
Mr Tunks said Bisonhome and two other businesses there were unaffected, but the cafe and grocer associated with Pialligo Estate had closed without notice on Thursday evening.
He had been advised that his lease was with a different company and it was business as usual.
Mr Tunks said the Estate staff were well known and the rural enclave was also feeling the uncertainty.
“It was heartbreaking to see it happen for the staff, owners, the families, the suppliers – the whole domino effect that runs through the Estate and local area,” he said.
“It’s a difficult time for some businesses. Everyone needs to pull together and support Canberra.”
Mr Tunks believed there would be no problem finding a buyer as it was such an incredible location, but they would need deep pockets because it was such a big project.
He said it would be criminal if different parts of the land and business were hived off.
“It has a very significant place in our local history, as much it does in the culinary and produce story of the region too,” Mr Tunks said.