Bizarre turn in the downfall of Bel & Brio boss as he plunges his money into country’s most famous gay bar – as former staff issue a warning to anyone hoping to work there
- Mark Richerdson owned Italian restaurant Bel & Brio in Barangaroo, Sydney
- The business shut down last month owing $1.8million in unpaid rent
- Former staff claim they were underpaid and worked in a ‘toxic’ environment
- Mr Richerdson has since taken ownership of Sydney gay nightclub ARQ
- The club shut down during Covid but is scheduled to reopen in December
An embattled businessman who former staff claim built a ‘toxic culture’ at his now shuttered restaurant is behind the reopening of one of Australia’s most iconic gay clubs.
Mark Richerdson, 38, had owned Italian restaurant Bel & Brio in Barangaroo, in Sydney‘s CBD, before the business was forcibly closed last month owing $1.8million to Lendlease in unpaid rent.
Three ex-employees at the high-end venue spoke to Daily Mail Australia and claimed they waited months to be reimbursed after being put on the minimum wage during Covid.
An email, seen by this publication, that Mr Richerdson sent to staff claimed the workers would be paid the difference ‘once we get back on our feet’.
‘We are definitely worried for future staff working for him because we believe he’ll keep doing the same as he did to staff at Bel & Brio,’ a former staffer said.
The ex-staffers claim they are also still waiting on superannuation after not being paid any for months and claim the environment at Bel & Brio was ‘toxic’.
But the forced closure of Bel & Brio has done little to quell Mr Richerdson’s business appetite, with the 38-year-old kicking off a new venture this week and becoming the owner of the iconic Oxford Street nightclub ARQ in Darlinghurst, Sydney.
Mark Richerdson had owned Italian restaurant Bel & Brio in Barangaroo, in Sydney’s CBD, before the business was closed last month after owing $1.8million to Lendlease in unpaid rent
The club closed during Covid and was listed for $50million in September 2021, but will welcome back revellers next month under the direction of Mr Richerdson and his company Kings Experience PTY LTD.
One staff member for Kings Experience had to remove a Facebook post about the venue hiring staff on Wednesday night after it was inundated with negative comments from former Bel & Brio workers.
‘To the owner of this new ”exciting” venue, could you kindly pay your previous company’s employees wages, superannuation and tips. Myself and all the staff at Bel & Brio are waiting for this!’ one comment read.
Another person warned potential ARQ applicants to research the downfall of Mr Richerdson’s former business.
He has reportedly spent $4million on the deal which saw him revamp the nightclub, and will also manage the neighbouring Bodyline Sauna.
Former Bel & Brio staff spoke to Daily Mail Australia and claimed they were left in the lurch by Mr Richerdson when the restaurant went under.
When Covid hit the business in 2020, staff claim Mr Richerdson told his workers they could stay on and work but only at the minimum wage of $350 a week.
An email to staff confirmed Mr Richerdson told workers they would be backpaid once the business had gotten back on its feet.
ARQ (pictured) closed during Covid and was listed for $50million in September 2021, but will now welcome back revellers next month under the direction of Mr Richerdson and his company Kings Experience PTY LTD
Staff claim that because most were on working visas, they didn’t have a choice but to stay and work in order to remain in Australia – something they claim Mr Richerdson used against them.
The business shut during Covid but was busy offering delivery and takeaway meals, with staff working on the minimum wage for four months.
One worker alleged that after leaving the business he was still owed tens of thousands of dollars for the shifts he worked on minimum wage, only receiving the payment several months later.
Another ex-staff member claims he’s still owed about $120,000 in unpaid wages and superannuation after he was stood down out of the blue.
The former worker said he was taking the matter to the Fair Work Commission.
He alleged that when he tried to reach out to Mr Richerdson about why he suddenly wasn’t getting any shifts, he was repeatedly ignored and hasn’t spoken to the owner since his final stint working at the restaurant.
‘He made a lot of promises that he never maintained,’ the ex-staff member claimed.
Former Bel & Brio staff told Daily Mail Australia they were left in the lurch by Mr Richerdson went the restaurant went under
When the business went under, the worker claimed that not everyone was told the restaurant had closed with some even rocking up for the morning shift to find the doors padlocked.
‘He told some senior staff not to worry and that he would reopen soon which was a lie,’ he said.
Mr Richerdson earlier claimed all staff had been ‘reimbursed’ for the time they were working on the minimum wage during Covid, news.com.au reported.
‘Anyone who is still owed will be paid out with all their entitlements once the transition takes place,’ he added.
Mr Richerdson, Bel & Brio’s chief operating officer, claimed he was ‘blindsided’ by Lendlease shutting down his business, but admitted staff were still being paid because the closure happened during a pay week.
‘I am doing everything in my power to solve this problem so I can give them clear information,’ he told the publication.
Regarding claims about unpaid superannuation, Mr Richerdson said he’d been ‘personally hit with a Superannuation Guarantee by the ATO’.
‘Currently we are implementing a monthly payment plan to ensure everyone gets everything they are owed.’
When contacted by Daily Mail Australia, Mr Richerdson declined to comment.
Mr Richerdson earlier claimed all staff had been ‘reimbursed’ for the time they were working on the minimum wage during Covid