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As Max Brenner Melts, Staff Say Super Went Unpaid

Former Max Brenner staff have come forward with details of missing superannuation payments and a toxic work culture, in the wake of news the popular chocolate chain has gone into voluntary administration.

Australia awoke to the news Wednesday that the cult chocolate franchise was entering administration after just 20 years of operation in the country.

Just days before, on September 30, McGrathNicol partners Barry Kogan, Kathy Sozou and Jason Preston were appointed voluntary administrators of Max Brenner Australia by its directors.

The cafe's owners, husband and wife Tom and Lilly Haikin, cited escalating costs and tighter retail trade as reasons for the company's demise.

The move has put the future of the 37 Australian stores and more than 600 staff in question, as the business continues to operate while an urgent review of operations is underway.

The stores are known for their fondue, crepes, waffles, hot chocolate and milkshakes. Image: AAP

Signals the company was under financial stress began to circulate in August 2017 when the Australian Financial Review reported the former head of the Packer family's Consolidated Press Holdings, Glenn Wein, was putting together a package to "rescue" the business which owed about $50 million at the time.

READ MORE: Chocolate Cafe Chain Max Brenner Goes Into Voluntary Administration 

Around the same time, staff were learning of superannuation payments which had gone unpaid, an email obtained by ten daily has revealed.

"We understand that there are concerns surrounding delayed payments for Super," the email, sent to staff in May 2017, said.

"We are working closely with the ATO, and they are aware of our situation and payment plans which have been approved... Once we have the final dates for the next super installments, we will be communicating with you and all our valued Max Brenner-ites with specific details."

The company assured employees they would not be disadvantaged "in any way" by the delayed payments, with each delayed payment accumulating 10 percent interest.

Ten daily spoke to three former employees of Max Brenner -- two of whom were former store managers -- on the condition of anonymity for this story.

One former employee who worked in Sydney and Brisbane stores said he is still owed about $2,000 in outstanding super payments which, until he changed jobs, he was unaware were missing to begin with.

An investigation by the Australian Taxation Office found in his favor for missing super payments from March to December 2017.

The former manager of a major Sydney store said it was one of the low points during his time at the store and impacted staff across the entire state.

“I wasn’t even aware and I was a manager," the former manager, who didn't wish to be named, told ten daily.

"It was even more concerning and shocking for me to even tell my own team, 'hey you guys haven’t been paid super at all for an X amount of time', and that was an embarrassment.”

Max Brenner continues to operate in Israel, Japan, the US, Russian, Singapore and China. Image: Getty

As well as missing super payments, consistently delayed pay has also become a common grievance among staff.

“Every month for like a good, probably two out of the four months I was there, there was a different excuse why they weren’t paying," said another former manager of a Brisbane branch, who didn't wish to be named.

"Like there’s a clerical issue or there’s a system issue, it isn’t working this month. As managers, we were constantly sent excuses of how to deal with that, so not only did they want us to go without our pay we now have to extinguish the flames with our staff who are part time.”

He said he was unsurprised the company had entered administration not only due to its operational downfalls, but the stressful culture which existed within stores.

“It was an extremely stressful environment which is part and parcel of hospitality but with Max Brenner it was a next level kind of stress. This demise of their business is definitely their own fault."

For the Sydney branch manager, the company's unwillingness to deal with unhygienic conditions was the straw that broke the camel's already strained back.

“There were rodents in the store,” he said.

“This is one of the reasons why I left. You’ve got rodent droppings all over the store where there was food and everything, so how can you, as a manager, as a boss, serve customers food that is unhygienic?”

One of his employees managed to film a rat in the store not long before he quit the chain in late 2017. Darting out of a hole in the floor beneath a display case of products, the rodent quickly darts back when it notices the team watching.

The former manager said despite reaching out to higher levels of management to deal with the issue, nothing was done during his year at the store.

“It became frustrating because I’ve never dealt with that in my career."

When approached for a statement, a spokesperson for McGrathNicol said as the investigation is in extremely early stages, there was no comment to be made at this time on the payment claims.

Ten daily has contacted Max Brenner for comment.