an open letter

11th February 2022

To our valued customers, wonderful suppliers, and treasured local community,

It is with great sadness, frustration and disappointment that we write to inform you that our business, Talbot Provedore and Eatery, will soon close its doors at 42 Scandinavian Crescent Talbot permanently.

Our business has been placed in an untenable position so that we are left with no choice but to close our doors at the London House premises.  This will happen over the coming weeks and will have far-reaching effects including, but not limited to, the termination of eight devoted, long-term, highly skilled and valued staff members. 

 

No, our business is not another victim of the effects of Covid.

To the contrary we have successfully navigated the pandemic thus far, staying open the entire time, constantly pivoting and adapting our offering to service our community, retain staff, and continue to support our regional suppliers.

 

Yes, our business has been, and continues to be successful, despite those challenges. 

Over the past 5+ years, the Talbot Provedore and Eatery has fulfilled our vision of supporting and showcasing local producers and wineries while creating a much-loved destination, and locally supported, restaurant. 

We have put Talbot on the map as a culinary destination, winning a ‘Best in State Award for Casual Dining’ at every Golden Plate Awards we have entered – three years in a row.

We have provided employment for many wonderful staff who have shared our passion for local seasonal food, great coffee and amazing beverages, enjoyed in the incredibly beautiful setting that is London House and the adjacent Community Garden, all the while providing a level of service that exceeded expectations.

In the process we have created a place for locals to gather together, warmly welcomed visitors from near and far, and shared with all our patrons what we love and cherish about our amazing region.

 

So why would we close our business in Talbot? 

In what we believe is an unjust situation, our successful, multi-award-winning, and much-loved business will soon have our tenancy at London House in Talbot terminated by the Central Goldfields Shire Council (Council), the owners of the London House building.

 

A little bit of background.

In September 2016, we were the successful applicants in an open and competitive public Expression of Interest (EOI) process.  We were offered a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the occupancy of and to run our business from London House in Talbot for a period up to 31 December 2020, the date of expiry of the Talbot Action Incorporated (TAI) head-lease with Council. TAI are the community organisation which manages the building via a head-lease with the Council. The MOU is, in all but name, a sub-lease for the premises at 42 Scandinavian Crescent Talbot.

The MOU contains a clause which granted us, as sub-tenants, the right to extend our sub-lease in the event that the head-lease was either renewed or extended.  This clause was approved by Council in the granting of the sub-lease.

We proceeded to establish our business – Talbot Provedore and Eatery – at London House, in good faith, based on the Memorandum of Understanding. The Council is now refusing to acknowledge the MOU, despite the fact that TAI received written approval from the Council to undertake the sub-lease with us via this MOU.

Both Council and TAI have since reneged on this contractual obligation and are currently conducting a new EOI for someone to “own and run” a café at London House.

In September 2020 we exercised our right within the MOU to secure further tenancy of London House, in the event that the head-lease between TAI and Council was to be extended beyond the end of 2020.  Despite our efforts and due to the prolonged inaction of both Council and TAI, we have been placed in the precarious position of operating our business without the security of tenure since December 2020. 

Understandably, this has jeopardised any future planning or investment in our business over the past 16 challenging months.

The Council has since determined that TAI must conduct a new EOI to sub-lease London House, as a condition of securing the head-lease with Council and this has been accepted by TAI.

 

Why we are not participating in the EOI.

From our recent experience with Council and TAI, we do not trust that the process is fair or reasonable.

The EOI will be conducted with indeterminate timeframes, judged by a panel with unknown industry credentials, devoid of transparency regarding conflict of interest, and no framework regarding governance and accountability.

The timeline for this process is unknown as it requires Council approval. The initial suggestion is 3 months. As it has taken 16 months to arrive at this point, we consider that ambitious at best.

If successful in the EOI process, we would then be required to sign a sub-lease with additional Special Conditions, drafted by TAI, that are far more prescriptive, interfering and restrictive to the day-to-day operations of the business.  With 5+ years of experience, we believe that the Special Conditions proposed by TAI are unrealistic and not commercially viable.  Further, in no way are they aligned with the actual commercial opportunity that both the London House premises, and Talbot as a whole, represents. 

We trusted the process in 2016, when we submitted our EOI application and are saddened and infuriated by the lack of transparency shown by the Council and TAI in the process of pursuing a new lease and sub-lease.

As much as we love what we do; supporting local producers, the Farmers’ Market, providing employment, and creating a place for locals to gather and visitors to explore our great region, at the end of the day we are a commercial business, –  whilst deeply community focused, we are not a charity.  In order to sustain our service and offering to the community and visitors alike, we need to remain a commercially viable business, as outlined in, and made a requirement of our original MOU agreement with TAI.

In addition to the uncertainty caused by the lack of any surety of tenure over the previous 16 months, the EOI process created by the Council and accepted by TAI adds a further 3+ months of uncertainty, and significant financial and reputational risk.

This results in making the following impossible:

  • Retaining staff
  • Employing new staff
  • Ordering Provedore stock, wine and perishable food
  • Assuring suppliers their accounts will be honoured
  • Taking bookings – our current bookings stretch well past the suggested timeframes
  • Booking events – our business caters for numerous off-site events, of which the public may not be aware
  • Selling gift certificates, and honouring those gift certificates

 

We have invested a great deal in developing the Talbot Provedore and Eatery to become the hospitality venue you know it as today.  One which can easily cater for 60 guests for a seven-course degustation dinner with matched wines, and equally be an inviting place for a relaxed Sunday lunch with the family.  We have invested in staff and training, established operating procedures and IT systems, installed significant infrastructure, built relationships with over 75 local suppliers, resourced equipment and tableware, curated a comprehensive local Wine Store, invested in a wide range of Provedore stock, and provided an exhibition space for over 35 local artists, including significant sales on commission. 

This is in addition to many intangible assets developed over the years, including strong brand awareness and loyalty from our much-loved customers, an active community on social media – including people living across the country or indeed the world who have visited and one day hope to return –  recognition in multiple highly regarded hospitality awards, state-wide press coverage, exceptional customer reviews in forums such as:

  • TripAdvisor – 4.5/5 stars
  • Google Reviews – 4.6/5 stars
  • Facebook – 4.9/5 stars
  • and incredibly strong word of mouth.

 

All this investment enabled us the opportunity to provide the level of service and product you came to know at the Talbot Provedore and Eatery.  We always knew that our business may one day change hands and new owners would take what we have created here in London House to the next level into the future. When we placed the business on the market in early 2021, that action was only after we had received assurance from TAI that the issue of security of tenure on London House via the head-lease between TAI and Council would be resolved mid-2021.

It wasn’t, and still isn’t.

The significant investment by us, both financial and in time, skill and effort, in establishing this business was founded on a trust in the Memorandum of Understanding with TAI, approved by the Council.  Now this Memorandum of Understanding is not being honoured.  We are left with a brand, a customer base, a highly regarded reputation, the ability to provide exceptional products and service and a restaurant full of plant and equipment, but with no tenure or place to call home.

We have lost faith in the Central Goldfields Shire Council to make decisions that are fair or are in the best interest of the community.

We have lost trust in Talbot Action Inc, an organisation that has not honoured their contractual obligations under our original Memorandum of Understanding agreement.  TAI’s recent decisions and behaviour is evidence that the organisation’s members do not possess the relevant industry experience required to create a commercially realistic and attractive sub-lease for London House, nor to conduct the EOI process and assessment in a manner that is accountable, transparent, and above all fair.

For these reasons, we have been left with no option but to close the doors of the Talbot Provedore and Eatery at London House in Talbot.

 

So, what’s next? 

For now, we wish to assure you that it’s business as usual.  We will continue to trade throughout February, except for the 11th, 12th, and 13th for which we had already planned our usual annual summer break.

Our final day for dining in the Eatery will be Sunday 27th of February. We may continue to open select hours post that date for take-away coffee, and to sell remaining stock in the Provedore and Wine Store, before finally closing the doors sometime in March.

Our staff will lose their jobs.  We are heartbroken by this but at the same time we know they are awesome, and they will be ok. We wish them well and know that whatever they do in the future they will be successful, and their next employer will be lucky to have them join their team.  

Our amazing local suppliers will lose a bricks and mortar outlet for their products and produce.  We have built strong relationships with all of our suppliers; we love their products and it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with passionate people and family run businesses and to share their delicious produce with you all.

From the start we have always been about supporting and showcasing the little guys, particularly in our Wine Store.  Many of those wines come from tiny local vineyards that may not even have a winery, let alone a cellar door. In many cases we are their only retail outlet.

All that will be lost.

 

Why are we sharing all this with you?  

We did not make this decision lightly and we feel you deserve an understanding of the situation, and the truth, rather than just finding our doors at London House closed and hearing rumours around town.  You, our customers, suppliers, local supporters and visitors from afar, have all helped make the Talbot Provedore and Eatery the great success that it is today, for this we are grateful.

In this moment, as we consider closing the doors it is difficult to bring it all into perspective, but at the end of the day, we’ve stayed true to ourselves and done nothing wrong, and we’ve devoted all our efforts to make it work.  What we achieved was a wonderful thing and positively impacted many people over many years.  We reflect on the special occasions we’ve had the honour to host, our venue full of chatter, laughter and good times that we’ve been a part of, and many fondly remembered conversations we’ve shared with you over the years.  Closing the doors at London House is not being done with the same grace in which we have conducted our business over the years, but it’s just a little blip in the scheme of things and the good times we’ve been a part of and great things we’ve achieved together most certainly outweigh this moment.

 

What about the future?

We are deeply saddened to be the bearer of this news however, we find ourselves in the position of having no other option.

We look forward to welcoming you to the Talbot Provedore and Eatery in our final month for one last meal, a celebratory drink, to stock-up on all your favourite Provedore items and replenish your cellar from our Wine Store.  

 

We do have some good news to share with you!

We believe that things happen for a reason and that there are bigger and brighter and better opportunities on the horizon.  We will remain true to our values and passion for supporting local producers and sharing with you all that we love about the region in which we live. 

Thank you for your loyalty and support of the Talbot Provedore and Eatery.  We’re currently exploring opportunities in which we can continue to share our passion for regional food, wine and experiences with you.

Stay tuned as we wrap up this chapter at London House in Talbot and embark upon our next adventure, we cannot wait for you to join us!

Kind regards, 

Jayne & Christopher

UPDATE: 13/2/2022

It is regrettable, however understandable that there is much misinformation, ill-informed personal opinions, political self-serving spin, irrelevant distractions, and incorrect assumptions floating around the posts and comments on social media regarding our recent announcement that Talbot Provedore and Eatery is departing London House, and why that is occurring.

We’d like to reiterate, and reset the record with some facts, in order to allow all involved to be adequately informed, and provide the opportunity to form objective opinions:

The Head Lease between CGSC and TAI

Contrary to uninformed claims, the head-lease between Council and TAI had NOT ‘expired’. 

The TERM of the head-lease had finished on 31. 12. 20, however as a standard commercial property lease, the lease continued, as it has within its clauses the provision to deal with this exact scenario.

As per S.10 of that head-lease, the lease between CGSC and TAI continued as a ‘holdover’ lease with exactly the same conditions, and obligations in accordance with S.10.1.1, being;

 

10. OVERHOLDING AND ABANDONMENT OF THE PREMISES

10.1. If the tenant, remains in possession of the premises without any objection by the landlord after the end of the term –

10.1.1 the tenant, without any need for written notice of any kind, is a monthly tenant on the conditions in this lease, modified so as to apply to a monthly lease.

 

The sublease contract (MOU) between TAI and TPE, which was approved by the CGSC states: 

 

5. OPTION TERM

5.3 In the event that the Lease is either renewed or extended, the Sub-lessor will offer the Sub-tenant the right to extend the sub-lease for the same period of the Lease renewal or extension.

 

Therefore, as the Head-lease was extended as per S.10.1 of the Head-lease agreement above, the sub-lease contract between TAI and Talbot Provedore and Eatery for the tenancy of London House was automatically extended too, in accordance with S.5.3 of the MOU above.

Council and TAI refuse to accept or acknowledge their obligations under this Lease, and have reneged and failed to take responsibility under the contracts they both signed/adopted, in a clear breach of the Retail Leases Act 2003.

 

Renewal of head lease between Council and TAI

The renewed head-lease has reportedly been concluded and signed by the Council and TAI.

Therefore, as per S.5.3 of the MOU sublease contract between TAI and the Talbot Provedore and Eatery (signed by TAI and accepted by Council), by default TAI must provide Talbot Provedore and Eatery with a Sub-lease for the same period of the head-lease renewal or extension (3+ 3+ 3), with the same conditions as the previous sublease. 

TAI instead reneged on this obligation.  Unjustifiably put the tenure of London House out to a public EOI, and significantly altered the conditions of the sub-lease to a point where they are commercially unviable and not aligned with the business opportunity London House, or Talbot in general offers. They have failed to be accountable for these actions.

 

Central Goldfields Shire Council (CGSC) Property Occupancy Policy

The CGSC Property Occupancy Policy can be found here:

https://www.centralgoldfields.vic.gov.au/Council/Policies-Plans-Strategies-and-Documents/Council-Policies/Property-Occupancy-Policy

The Council has forced TAI to make Talbot Provedore and Eatery undergo another EOI for continued tenure of London House. This is not in keeping with the Council’s Property Occupancy Policy – the policy does not provide a mechanism for the Council to enforce a sub-lessee to undergo an EOI, however that is exactly what they have done, in the process reneging on their Lease and MOU. 

 

Why Talbot Provedore and Eatery is not applying for the (incorrectly determined) EOI

TPE is not applying for the EOI as:

  • Council and TAI have reneged on their obligations and responsibilities under the existing head-lease and MOU and failed to be accountable to these actions; and

 

  • Council has no right under its own Property Occupancy Policy to force TAI to conduct an EOI for a sub-lease. The CEO of CGSC has simply invented that; and

 

  • In accordance with the existing head-lease and MOU, Talbot Provedore and Eatery cannot be required to undergo an EOI, as we already have right of tenure of London House as written in the original head-lease and MOU; and

 

  • The Special Conditions drafted by TAI in the proposed new sub-lease are not aligned with the original agreement between TAI and Talbot Provedore and Eatery in the MOU. Further, they are commercially unviable and not commensurate with the business opportunity London House, and Talbot in general offers. Therefore, it is of no commercial interest in its current form.
 
 

Council and TAI responsibility, accountability, and governance.

This process over the past 15 months has been the complete opposite of being reasonable, proper, open and consultative.

TPE repeatedly attempted to work with both Council and TAI and to hold them to account regarding their existing contracts, and to ensure they fulfilled their obligations and responsibilities. 

We failed, and instead they have reneged on them.

 

The Talbot Provedore and Eatery business being placed on the market in early 2021

We have been fully transparent from the very beginning in 2016 that we planned to build the business into a saleable asset, as is standard business practice. To this end, we ensured that there was a clause (S.15) in our sublease contract (MOU) with TAI;

 

S15. ASSIGNMENT

With the agreement of both parties, the sub-lease may be transferred to a third party if the business is sold by the sub-tenant and the Sub-tenant will be released from responsibility for the Premises or the Business once the sub-lease has been assigned.

 

We were planning to put the Talbot Provedore and Eatery business on the market in early autumn 2020, however Covid hit with the first of multiple lockdowns on March 23rd 2020, so we postponed.

The Talbot Provedore and Eatery business was placed on the market in early 2021 only once we had received assurance from TAI that the issue of the head lease between Council and TAI would be resolved in July 2021, when the third tranche of the Victorian Local Government Act 2020 was adopted by the State Government.

Council and TAI failed to do this as promised.

The business was taken off the market in May 2021 when Victoria entered lockdown 4. The process of advertising the business incurred thousands of dollars in costs.

Our intention in selling the business was to realise a capital return for our significant financial investment and risk, tens of thousands of unpaid hours personally devoted to the business, and seamlessly pass the baton of our successful business onto new owners (approved by TAI) to grow it into the future for the benefit of the Talbot community.

TAI and CGSC have done everything both inside, and outside their powers to stop this being realised.

We were certainly not interested in merely ‘moving on’ as has been incorrectly assumed and proffered by some, and to date our efforts and interest in the business have continued unabated (within the constrictions of not having a renewed sub-lease, and not being able to further invest in the business for the past 16 months due the lack of action by Council and TAI to renew the head-lease).

 

The “$30,000 Kitchen upgrade”

In late 2020, the original 20+ year-old small and grossly inefficient under-bench LPG commercial oven within the kitchen of London House began malfunctioning due to its age and wear and tear.

The oven is an asset of London House. As TAI did not have the funds to replace it, Talbot Provedore and Eatery looked to quickly purchase and install a separate modern combi oven. TAI openly discouraged us from doing this, arguing that the oven had to be the property of London House, so that the kitchen remained commercially functional for all future tenants of London House.

As the existing oven continued to decline in service, we brokered a deal with TAI whereby Talbot Provedore and Eatery would provide the initial capital and purchase a replacement oven, which TAI would then reimburse over time, with it eventually becoming the property of London House.

This plan became obsolete when some grant money became available through Council, and a new oven was purchased and installed (incorrectly) by Council.

This whole process took many months to execute, and Talbot Provedore and Eatery estimates it has lost over $20,000 in lost labour and ingredients dealing with the original oven whilst awaiting the solution above, during Covid lockdowns and restrictions. Further we endured significant repetitional risk due to using the original faulty oven during service, through either burnt food, or long wait times as the oven would fluctuate in temperature, or sometimes would not work at all.

That new oven is wonderful and remains the property of London House for all future tenants and the community to enjoy.

 

The “$90,000 in public money to open the business”

Presumably this comment is in reference to the Advancing Country Towns Transforming Tourism grant that was awarded to TAI and the previous tenant of London House, Bryce’s Bistro in March 2016, prior to us establishing the Talbot Provedore and Eatery.

The Advancing Country Towns grants were awarded to Creswick for the Lindsay Art Trail, Clunes for Booktown, and Talbot for TAI to partner with the Talbot Farmers’ Market Committee – with a proposal to launch a ‘Provender Store’ within Bryce’s Bistro in London House.

 

Below is an excerpt from the “Talbot Action Inc and Talbot Farmers Market Committee Joint Proposal for the Advancing Country Towns Transforming Tourism Project –Talbot –March 2016” document:

Talbot Action Incorporated (TAI) in partnership with the Talbot Farmers market committee and the operators of Bryce’s Bistro will expand the London house precinct (which TAI are the leaseholders) to provide;

      • A provender store within the existing London House building.
      • Enhancement to the abutting open space to provide increased weather protection and improved amenity and access.
      • additional access points to the adjacent community room

 

There are four components to the initiative which would be implemented on a staged basis and these four components fall into two main requirements, Infrastructure improvements and activation actions.

 

We were independently approached by TAI to submit individual tenders to act as consultants on the project, working with TAI, other consultants, and Bryce Gabell – the tenant of London House. Jayne’s role was to be in the activation and marketing of the project, Christopher’s was to work with Bryce to develop, host and execute a series of long table dinner events which showcased the local products in the new ‘provender store’ along with produce from the Talbot Farmers’ Market.

The infrastructure improvements were managed by Anna Philips of Clunes – a respected interior designer. They include the significant fixed ‘provedore’ infrastructure you now see in London House – being the bespoke front shelving, the step shelving and balustrade, and the serving counter. These items were beautifully created by local craftsman and trades people. Electrical and plumbing works were required, as well as upgrading the very basic kitchen, installing a walk-in cool room, a commercial freezer, installing new lighting and lampshades, and general maintenance. This infrastructure work represented the majority of the grant budget, administered by TAI.

During the execution of this project, TAI locked the current tenants out of London House as they were behind in rent, took possession of the building, sold their belongings, and put the tenancy of London House out to a public EOI.

We submitted an Expression Of Interest, and were awarded tenure of London House by TAI, approved by Council.

We were the only applicant.

The remainder of the funds were acquitted by TAI in alignment with the project plan approved by TAI – activation of the new ‘provender store’, and subsidising the ticket price of the first 4 ‘Seasonal Dinner Events’ – Talbot Provedore and Eatery’s interpretation of the ‘long table dinner events showcasing the local products’ requirement.

Talbot Provedore and Eatery has now hosted 17 successful Seasonal Dinner events (every quarter except when in lockdown over the past 2 years), partnering with 16 different local wineries, serving over 6,100 dishes to more than 850 patrons.

As per the oven, the infrastructure assets created by this grant are the property of London House, for the benefit of all future tenants, and the community.

 

Provenir

As many of our loyal customers are aware, both Jayne and I are co-founders of another company called Provenir.

Provenir launched and operates Australia’s first and only mobile, on-farm abattoir. We partner with regenerative farmers throughout Victoria and NSW, processing grass fed cattle on the property on which they were raised, in a low stress environment, realising premium quality, highly nutritious, and multi-award winning beef. This beef is sold through multiple channels, including food service to restaurants such as Rockpool Bar and Grill, Grossi Florentino, and the Three Blue Ducks group, retailers, industry, and direct to consumers through our online store.

Provenir has won 2 Gold Medals in the Australian Food Awards, and was honoured with the 2020 delicious. Harvey Norman Produce Award for Outstanding Innovation, Sustainability & Community. 

Established years before opening Talbot Provedore and Eatery, Provenir is a totally separate business.

We have always been fully transparent in our intention to establish the Talbot Provedore and Eatery business, then step back from the day to day running of Talbot Provedore and Eatery, relying on our wonderful staff to manage the restaurant. In fact, it is recorded in our business plan that was tendered in our 2016 EOI from which we were awarded tenure of London House.

Our involvement in Provenir is irrelevant when considering the issues we are addressing here regarding Council and TAI.

 

To close

We wish to reiterate, that we opened the Talbot Provedore and Eatery at London House in Talbot in good faith that the head-lease and MOU, which formed the foundation of our tenancy and establishment of our business, would be honoured by both Council and TAI. 

Had we known, in 2016 when we submitted our EOI for tenure of London House, that both the Council and TAI would renege on their obligations and responsibilities as detailed in those contracts, and outlined above, we would never have lodged our expression of interest, nor established the Talbot Provedore and Eatery.

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