Once a cult Italian chain where desperate diners lined up outside for a chance to grab a table, Criniti’s downfall has been swift and severe as the new owner is accused of posting five-star reviews to enhance its reputation. .
Frank Criniti and his wife Rima founded the chain in Parramatta, western Sydney, in 2003 when they were both 23 years old.
They ran an upscale restaurant that used flashy motorcycles as decor, stylish settings, delicious food, and dedicated service.
One franchise even offered a courtesy shuttle service to nearby ferries in a Rolls-Royce.
But a messy divorce between the couple saw business-savvy Rima leave Criniti’s altogether.
Frank managed to keep the chain going until 2019 before more than $16.5 million worth of debt caught up with him.
Raj Patel and his Brunelli Group ultimately bought seven Criniti locations for just $1 million in November 2019, eventually reopening in August 2022 after the end of the Covid pandemic.
Rima Criniti (above) said she is “embarrassed” by what famed Italian restaurant chain Criniti’s has become since it was forced out of business by divorce in 2019.
Frank Criniti (above) turned over ownership of the business after racking up more than $16.5 million in debt and was barred from running another business until 2023
Raj Patel (above) and his Brunelli Group bought seven Criniti locations for just $1 million in November 2019
Patel bought the struggling family-owned chain after it went into administration and was forced to close seven of its 13 stores in New South Wales and Victoria.
The Brunelli group kept the remaining six locations open, including its flagship waterfront restaurant in Darling Harbour.
Criniti’s also introduced two new restaurants with locations in Sydney’s Castle Hill, Parramatta, Brighton-Le-Sands, Wetherill Park and Darling Harbour, Newcastle’s Kotara, Perth’s Carousel and Melbourne’s Carlton and Southbank.
But its reopening, to much fanfare, has been plagued by bad reviews with longtime fans claiming the food and service have gone downhill.
Hundreds of comments left by disappointed customers called the food, service and condition of the stores “disgusting” and nothing like the “old days”.
Other long-term customers complained that the prices had skyrocketed while the quality worsened and the portions shrunk.
‘I would give it 0 (stars) if I could. This place is an absolute disgrace. Food is microwaved frozen food, staff look like depressed zombies, cocktails were good though,” wrote one person.
We ordered a garlic and shrimp pizza. Little did we know that we have to cut the garlic ourselves.
‘Avoid this place, there is a good restaurant in Sydney. Criniti’s is not one of them.
A recent Google reviewer posted a photo of their pizza with garlic cloves stuffed on it.
Another particularly brutal review of Criniti’s Darling Harbor came on November 16, written by “local guide” Anthony Grice.
‘I’m not sure what makes Critini’s such a beacon for eating. It certainly is all show,’ she wrote.
‘Is it a shame that Sydneysiders think this place is worth eating, as indicated by people lining up falsely waiting for a table when it wasn’t busy and dressed as if they were going to a nightclub?
“Once I was seated I couldn’t even focus on the menu very busy it took a lot of strength again to block out the distracting loud music to even read the menu…no table service we always had to call the staff again I don’t care where you are, Sydney restaurants are really dropping the ball…it’s basic hospo.
Criniti’s in Darling Harbor (pictured) has been peppered with bad reviews with one particularly brutal criticizing it as a “nightclub”.
“On the way to pay, which you need to get the bill yourself, I had an absolutely rough experience as he couldn’t understand me and couldn’t hear a damn word they were saying.
Summary: I thought I was in a night club, the menu is an IKEA instruction booklet, don’t eat for a week, you could finish your meals and being an interstate tourist who doesn’t smell the air of Sydney, Darling Harbor has lost perspective on basic hospitality skills, seems to be surviving on tourists alone.’
Ratings for the brand plummeted until last month, when customers noticed a spate of recent five-star reviews.
A viral video on TikTok showed dozens of reviews left by Google accounts, some even repeating the same spelling mistake multiple times.
The video accused the brand of buying positive reviews to help improve its Google score.
The Criniti account, which was tagged in the video, responded by blocking the poster.
Many of the reviews have been removed since the video was uploaded, including one of a ‘Raj Patel’, the same name as the person who bought Criniti’s chain in 2019.
Criniti reviews have recently been outpaced by five-star ratings with little to no prior account history and often no explanation.
Criniti’s career manager, Kathy Criniti, vehemently denied that the restaurant was using bots to boost Google ratings, saying its poor reviews were just a reflection of some customers’ experience.
“With 30,000 covers booked every week and this number increasing, it’s inevitable that there will be some (poor) feedback here and there,” he told Daily Mail Australia.
“Especially in an age of reviews and social presence, where we rely on Google reviews as consumers.
The popularity of ‘Criniti’ hasn’t faltered nor has our presence and viability in hospitality, so with that being said, our growing numbers are evidence of positivity and as a group we can’t continue to grow without the feedback, be it positive or negative. ‘
Former co-founder Rima Criniti said she had continued to dine in stores but was “ashamed” to be associated with what has become the once-iconic brand.
Criniti’s used to be known for flashy motorbikes and cars, stylish surroundings, delicious food and dedicated service.
“It really hurt me to see the business close, but when someone stepped in to bring it to life, I was like ‘wow,'” he told the Daily Telegraph in September.
“I had lost him, yes, but I wanted someone to take pride in what Frank and I had created.”
Ms Criniti is now working on building another business while her ex-husband has a year left on a five-year management ban after seven other of his companies went bankrupt.
CRINITI RESTAURANT RATINGS
Brighton-Le-Sands: 3.8/5 of 56 reviews
Many comments highlight the good service and great view of the location, but say that the food could be better. Recent reviewers said their meals were “greasy”, overpriced and took too long to be served.
parramatta: 3.7/5 from 1,383 reviews
Recent reviews say the food is overpriced and below par. Several reviews were from former Criniti fans who said they were “disappointed” with the quality of the new ownership.
Dear Port: 3.1/5 of 2,391 reviews
Criniti’s flagship store has received the harshest criticism of all. Customers criticize the hygiene, “disgusting” food and poor service, noting that the staff seem to “don’t want to be there”.
Castle Hill: 3.2/5 of 1,247 reviews
This Criniti’s is even with lovers and enemies. Many people praise the great atmosphere of the restaurant and its family or group atmosphere. Most of the negative comments blame “bad service” for their experience.
Wetherill Park: 3.7/5 of 481 reviews
Most of the recent reviews of the restaurant are positive, highlighting the delicious food and friendly staff as two selling points.
Carlos: 3.6/5 of 1,648 reviews
This restaurant seems to be a fan favorite with many raving about the food and service. However, the negative comments say that the meals are not worth the high price.
south bank: 3.3/5 from 2,271 reviews
Many customers say that the location is the highlight of this Criniti with lack of service and food. One person called their experience “deplorable”, while many said the waiters were too “slow”.
Kotara: 3.6/5 of 914 reviews
Many people applauded the food at this Criniti’s but criticized the service as “horrendous”. One customer wrote: “Why go to Karen’s Diner when you can go to Criniti’s Newcastle?”
Carousel: 3.4/5 of 481 reviews
This store has received mostly positive reviews over the last month with many saying that the store offers delicious food and a great space for groups. The only criticism is that the food is expensive.