Ben Milbourne to shut Providore Place restaurant CharlotteJack

Celebrity chef Ben Milbourne will close his Devonport restaurant CharlotteJack due to financial hardships and troubles with the lease.

The upmarket eatery opened to much fanfare in 2018 and was a keystone tenant of the Living City development Providore Place.

But the lease needed to be renegotiated after the beleaguered manager of Providore Place ceded control to Devonport City Council at the beginning of 2020.

The council said in a statement they had sought a new lease arrangement with Milbourne, however, "suitable terms could not be reached".

Celebrity chef Ben Milbourne was appointed food ambassador of Living City in 2015. Picture: Brodie Weeding

Celebrity chef Ben Milbourne was appointed food ambassador of Living City in 2015. Picture: Brodie Weeding

Milbourne said the restaurant had been running into debt and it wasn't "economically viable" to sign another lease.

He said there were problems well before the coronavirus pandemic and they largely had to do with Providore Place's failure to attract significant foot traffic.

"We tried basically everything we could to get enough customers in there and enough turnover to make it economically viable," he said.

"We opened seven days a week, we did breakfast and lunches and dinner and tried absolutely everything but there just isn't enough patronage of that area to make it economically viable."

But Milbourne didn't believe the location was a lost cause and thought its prospects would improve once the Living City waterfront park and hotel precinct opened.

"It's a great community space and I wish it just got used a bit more," he said.

GRAND OPENDING: Apprentice chef Luke Schiedl and head chef Lynton Tapp making the final preparations ahead of the opening of CharlotteJack in 2018. Picture: Brodie Weeding

GRAND OPENDING: Apprentice chef Luke Schiedl and head chef Lynton Tapp making the final preparations ahead of the opening of CharlotteJack in 2018. Picture: Brodie Weeding

Milbourne was satisfied he could leave the site because Devonport City Council already had "a couple of really strong expressions of interest".

But he had also been struggling to manage the restaurant along with his other business and media commitments.

"When you open a restaurant it's a full time gig. You've got to commit 100 per cent to it," he said.

"I did that for the first 14 months and then I needed to go back to productions and Masterchef and all those things and I just didn't have the 70 hours a week to do it anymore."

Milbourne said it was a "very emotional" decision to leave because it was his first restaurant "and named after my kids".

"I really wanted to make it work and pushed as much as I could," he said.

Devonport mayor Annette Rockliff was not overly concerned about struggling to fill CharlotteJack's shopfront because the council's leasing agent, Knight Frank, "seem fairly confident".

"They're the experts in the field but we will just have to wait and see," she said.

Cr Rockliff said "recent interest in tenancies has been promising and aligns with information we are hearing in regard to increasing market activity generally across the city".

Knight Frank is also currently trying to secure new lease arrangements with other Providore Place tenant but Cr Rockliff was "not prepared to comment" on whether there had been troubles with those also.

When asked whether the loss of CharlotteJack reflected poorly on Living City, Cr Rockliff said the project was "much bigger" than Providore Place.

She said Providore Place "remains a core element" of Living City and the development of the nearby $40 million waterfront park and hotel precinct would "provide a timely foundation for jobs and economic activity in the region"

"... Along with an exciting platform to support the recovery of the tourism and hospitality sector post COVID-19," she said.

Devonport Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Dane Layton. Picture: Simon Sturzaker

Devonport Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Dane Layton. Picture: Simon Sturzaker

Restaurateur and Devonport Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Dane Layton was not aware of the precise factors that caused CharlotteJack's lease to end.

But he said the coronavirus had ushered in a "really tough time" for the hospitality sector.

"What we've been through in this industry recently has no doubt been tough and tougher for some over others," he said.

"Unfortunately I think people knew there was going to be some causalities involved but it's always sad when any business has to shut down."

Mr Layton was less optimistic about the chances of filling CharlotteJack's lease and said it was "not a good look" for Providore Place to have a restaurant close.

"Coming out of COVID-19 as well I think that's going to be bigger than anything as a barrier for people moving in there," he said.

"It's a very tricky game to get into at the moment."

This story Former MasterChef contestant closes restaurant first appeared on The Advocate.