In a series of exclusive interviews with The Australian Financial Review Magazine, Mr Perry explained he had backers ready to acquire his restaurants from Quadrant, but that fell apart when restaurants were closed in late March.
RDG raised $230 million late last year to repay debt and back further expansion. “The situation is that we will need every single penny to make sure that we can get out the other end of this,” Mr Perry told AFR Magazine in May. As for speculation that he might buy back at fire-sale prices the restaurants he sold for $60 million: “I don’t think Quadrant would want to sell a distressed asset at the moment.”
One of Australia’s most successful home-grown private equity firms, Quadrant is exposed to many COVID-impacted businesses, including entertainment, gyms and tourism.
The March separation plan came after Mr Perry and RDG chief executive Thomas Pash spoke to potential buyers in the US and Asia early last year and found that while Asian buyers were interested in RDG’s premium businesses and American buyers the casual brands, none wanted both.
Along the way, the RDG experiment in merging high and mid-market has taken a toll, including a continuing Fair Work investigation into claims that RDG underpaid staff by $10 million, Spice Temple’s loss of hats in Sydney and Melbourne, and the departure of key staff, including long-time Rockpool group Sydney manager Jeremy Courmadias.
“I was very attached to the Rockpool that was,” Mr Courmadias told AFR Magazine, the first time he’s spoken of his departure. “Working under Neil, the business is important but what’s most important are the people, the staff, the suppliers, and the guests, and not the bottom line. That very quickly changed with the new owners.”
Having planned to separate, Mr Perry and Mr Pash are instead hunkered down together to re-establish – if they can – the value of the empire. “We now have about 20 per cent [of venues] open and will add another 20 per cent next week as a group. Month by month we will open more, hopefully being fully operational by spring,” Mr Perry said on Thursday.
He has kept busy during the shutdown by launching Hope Delivery by Rockpool, which gives away meals to the disadvantaged, including restaurant workers who are now unemployed. In an earlier interview with AFR Magazine he speculated he may at some stage even walk away from the Rockpool brand and start all over again.