The international celebrity chef behind one of Port Elizabeth’s priciest new restaurants, who allegedly left a string of unpaid suppliers in his wake when he moved from Cape Town, is now being accused of using the same recipe to run his eatery in Richmond Hill.
Conrad Gallagher, the Irish chef and owner of Gallagher’s on Stanley, settled in the city with his Port Elizabeth-born wife, former beauty queen Candice Coetzee, and their two sons after leaving Cape Town earlier this year under a cloud of debt.
But Gallagher, the youngest chef ever awarded two Michelin Stars, is now being pressured by several Nelson Mandela Bay suppliers, who have come forward to complain about his unpaid bills.
Confronted recently about the debts, Gallagher admitted to having some “bad debt with a few creditors” in the Bay.
Blaming bad luck, not understanding the local market and not being a “perfect person”, he said he was working towards clearing the debt and had already made major inroads in doing so.
“After our very quiet opening in July we were very busy, but in early September things started quietening down drastically,” Gallagher said.
“We started running small amounts of credit with people at the beginning and very quickly changed it to cash on delivery because we felt business had cooled down.”
“We are now in a situation where we are kind of holding on.”
“We are heavily booked going into December with year -end functions and private parties, and we feel that we can very quickly clear our debts.”
“As for our creditors’ list, as of [November 11] we owe about R46 000.”
“Have we run creditors out of their credit terms? Yes, we have. “But we are expecting a positive December and a positive January, and if it doesn’t work out then we will look to exit the business,” he said.
While Gallagher initially denied he had debts in Cape Town, saying he had been sequestrated in 2009, which meant his debts should have been settled, he eventually acknowledged one of the debts.
The landlord at his former Cape Town restaurant, Cafe Chic, where he allegedly failed to fulfil an 18-month lease agreement, claims she is owed R500 000 in rent and is taking legal action against him.
Quickvest 512 director Francoise Queyroix, owner of the Cafe Chic property, said: “We knew he had problems before and we spoke to him about it, but I decided to give him a chance anyway.”
Queyroix said Gallagher had started falling behind on payments after a year.
“In March, he told me he would be taking out a bank loan to pay back the money he owed me, but I have still not seen a cent,” she said.
However, she said Gallagher had recently contacted her attorney and signed an agreement to pay instalments on the debt, starting next month.
Gallagher admitted to reaching a payment agreement with Queyroix’s lawyer.
“We have reached a confidential agreement and I will be starting with payments from December, but I can’t say how much I will be paying,” he said.
A Facebook page launched last month has received more than 40 comments detailing negative experiences involving the chef, and calls for a class action suit against him.
But Gallagher said the page had been started out of spite and to harm his new business.
“I am trying to negotiate with the people who set it up to take it down,” he said.
“It is against Facebook rules, it is against the law, it is hate speech and it is a platform for people who have a vendetta against me to bring damage to me and the new business.”
Another Cape Town supplier that suffered non-payment is Charly’s Bakery, which supplied another of Gallagher’s former businesses, Sundance coffee bar.
Gallagher said he had last done business with Charly’s in 2002, when he owned Sundance, and had “no idea if I still owe them money”.
Meanwhile, Gallagher has been missing payments to some suppliers in the Bay, forcing them to cancel his accounts.
The Rocket Seed in Brickmakers Kloof, which supplies about 85% of the eateries in Stanley Street with fresh produce, has blocked Gallagher’s account.
Owner Lisa Brunette said they had been warned by other businesses on “The Strip”, as the restaurants in Stanley Street are known, not to do business with Gallagher.
“We supplied him for about two months and, in the beginning, he paid on time, but then when he started owing us over R5 000 we blocked his account,” she said.
“After trying to get our money out of him, he told me not to panic because it was not that much money.”
Brunette said she had last requested payment from him three weeks ago and had still not been paid the R5 105 owed.
“We are a young business and imagine if I am owed R5 000 by several people – it would result in me closing my doors,” she said.
Global Foods Distributors in Walmer claims it is owed about R18 000.
“It got to a point of calling him three to four times a day. His wife, Candice, even promised us we would receive our money, to no avail,” the company’s branch manager, Llewellyn Muller, said.
Global Foods has since delivered a final letter of demand. Gallagher said he was being “hanged by a few small suppliers”.
“These suppliers were in such a hurry to load the lorry when we first opened, but sadly the business didn’t work out,” he said.
“Sometimes in business you need next week to pay for this week’s expenses, but the problem is when that last quarter doesn’t kick in it creates a backlog.”
“Right now, we owe people a few thousand rand and on a good night we can turn over about R18 000.”
“I owe one catering company [Global Foods] about R18 000 and of course they are upset because I owe them money.”
“I would be upset too if someone owes me money and they’re not paying it back.”
While he admitted to owing various suppliers in the Bay, he said The Rocket Seed and Global Foods were among those suppliers he would be paying back before the end of the year.