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Al Parco shut down by AUT

Al Parco, the popular Euro-Chinese fusion restaurant on AUT’s North Campus, is being shut down, and the owner doesn’t know why.

The owner, Rebecca Lau, taped an A4 notice to her store which stated: “WITHOUT (sic) any reason, we are informed by AUT that our contract will not be renewed. Because of their decision, we are sad to advise that our shop will be closed on 31st August 2018. Life is harsh, some people work hard to earn their living, but some people abuse their power. Thank you for your support over the years.”

After this heart-breaking notice was pointed out to me, I had to contact the owner to find out more. First, I wanted to know what AUT students thought of the restaurant.

Chantal Yeatman, a second-year Oral Health student on the North Campus, was extremely disappointed to hear the venue was shutting down.

“Al Parco is a great business with polite and friendly staff. They always go out of their way to make sure that you are satisfied with your order. I hope we can somehow keep them around as their food and prices are great. It would be a horrible loss for the uni cafeteria,” she said.

Hilary Barker, also a second-year Oral Health student, said her experience at Al Parco has always been fantastic.

“They’re super nice – they have great food that always sells out.”

North Campus student Chloe Blannin also said she “was shocked to see that they were being closed down.”

But if their service and food are great, then why are they being closed down?

I spoke to Rebecca Lau, the owner of Al Parco, in hopes of finding out why the emotionally-fuelled notice was put up. She told me that after working at AUT for seven years, their “contract was terminated with no reason whatsoever”.

Although AUT does have the right to take whatever action they please with Al Parco’s contract, the way in which they went about it was disappointing to Rebecca and the employees at Al Parco.

When I asked Rebecca what her relationship with AUT had been like prior to this issue, she described it as being “like a landlord and tenant” also stating that the communication between them was like “a primary school teacher laying down rules for us to obey”.

She also said the decision to terminate their contract was made with no prior discussion or warning, which prompted her to state that “some people abuse their power.”

“It is my personal view that those who can make decisions affecting our livelihood do not exercise their power in good for the wellbeing of the university or its students,” said Rebecca.

For a bit of background on the story, in early 2017 Rebecca found a buyer who was interested in buying Al Parco – she just needed permission from AUT to complete the transaction. However, upon doing so Rebecca was notified that there was a third party who had expressed interest in “operating a site on Campus”.

When Rebecca informed AUT that she wanted to sell her business, there was no response.

Without Rebecca’s knowledge or involvement, AUT arranged a meeting with the buyer and informed them that if they were to buy Al Parco, AUT would be unsure how long they would renew the contract for, or if they would even renew it. Rebecca said that in her opinion, “This is why the buyer finally decided to cancel the agreement to buy our business.”

The reason that this is unfair to Rebecca is because their neighbouring restaurant, The Jewel of Bombay, was able to get a new owner in May of 2017. They are now named Northern Bombay as a result. They disclosed to Rebecca that when they bought the business from The Jewel of Bombay, AUT had assured them that their contract would be renewed upon expiry. Their business wouldn’t have been sold if it weren’t for the renewal of their contract. “If this is true,” she said, “this is totally unfair to me.”

“I wanted to renew my contract or seek an extension. However, AUT said that it was too early to consider a renewal, since they are only considered six months prior to the contract expiring.”

Hence, Rebecca waited until February of this year to approach AUT again. They arranged a meeting in March, where she was informed that their contract would not be renewed.

When I asked AUT a few questions about the closure of Al Parco, I was mostly ignored. I was told by Alison Sykora, the Head of Communications at AUT, that, “the contractual arrangements between AUT and Al Parco are confidential between the parties and we are not at liberty to discuss this issue.”

When asked how the closure is going to impact her and the other employees at Al Parco, Rebecca said she had spent a considerable amount purchasing the business in 2011, and due to the termination of the contract, her business is now “worthless”.

Rebecca closed with: “AUT can choose anyone to operate at their campuses, however, I think it is most unreasonable to terminate our contract after seven years without a consultation or even a reason – in fact, without any discussion.”

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