Top Sydney restaurant boss unleashes at food magazine editor – as fiery war of words erupts over latest article: ‘Part of the problem’


A fiery war of words has erupted between the editor of a top food magazine and a Sydney restaurant manager – as small venues battle rising costs and fierce competition from hospitality giants. 

Rebecca Fanning, director of popular Sydney restaurants Jane and Arthurs, took aim at Gourmet Traveller magazine after it published a feature on the growing dominance of hospitality empires such as Justin Hemmes’ Merivale.

‘Bigger is better,’ the article was headlined. ‘Is this the future of dining out in Australia?’

Ms Fanning accused the hospitality media giant of failing to do enough to support smaller restaurants that operate on limited budgets.

‘Those small operators don’t have the funds which the large guys do, and by rewarding these large scale, hugely funded (a lot by backers) projects, you’re saying that this is the way people should dine,’ she wrote.

‘Maybe if the publications put more of an emphasis on smaller places, with owner-operators and smaller budgets doing amazing things in much more innovative ways, there would be a shift in consumers’ mind.

‘You guys make these places the places to be.’

Joanna Hunkin, the editor of Gourmet Traveller, is pictured at the Restaurant Awards in 2023

Joanna Hunkin, the editor of Gourmet Traveller, is pictured at the Restaurant Awards in 2023

Michelle Badek (pictured left) said independently-owned restaurants were struggling to secure coverage in publications such as Gourmet Traveller because they didn't have the budget for top PR

Michelle Badek (pictured left) said independently-owned restaurants were struggling to secure coverage in publications such as Gourmet Traveller because they didn’t have the budget for top PR

Ms Fanning was backed up by Michelle Badek, general manager of Melbourne restaurant Al Dente Enoteca, who said she was ‘getting emotional reading this’. 

‘Maybe it’s the 1.20am finish, working my butt off (working in an owner-operated venue which I believe in and WANT to work hard for), or the fact that this is hard facts, I don’t know. But thank you for saying this, 1000x over. Spot on,’ Ms Badek said. 

Gourmet Traveller editor Joanna Hunkin then weighed in on the debate, telling Ms Fanning: ‘Sorry Bec but I’m not going to cop that.’ 

‘If you look through the last 12 months of GT, our hero features have included Little Pickett, Bar Louise, Yakitori Yurippi, Sean’s Bondi, Agrarian Kitchen, Soul Dining, Kafeneion and more,’ she continued. 

‘We regularly champion smaller and independent restaurants – including yours.’

In a final swipe at Ms Badek, the editor told her: ‘You literally had a [Gourmet Traveller] cover, facts.’

Ms Badek hit back, saying that while she was grateful for the cover, smaller operators were still struggling to get as much publicity as the larger groups. 

‘I don’t necessarily speak just from my experience, but the shared experience of many owner-operated venues; every time a multi-venue group makes news, it feels like there’s less space for independents to take up in media,’ she wrote. 

‘It’s a competitive game, and I know many, many restaurants are tired of seeing the big money machines get more and more airtime.’

The restaurant manager added that most independently-owned restaurants are unable to spend up to $4,000 a month on PR companies. 

Ms Hunkin said Gourmet Traveller tried to ‘spread the love’ as much as possible. 

‘We actively seek out a range of restaurants for coverage – many of which do not have PR and are small, independent operators. We try really hard to spread the love and to be told we are the problem is unfounded and unfair,’ she wrote.

Pictured is Rebecca Fanning, the director of popular Surry Hills restaurants Jane and Arthurs

Pictured is Rebecca Fanning, the director of popular Surry Hills restaurants Jane and Arthurs

Ms Hunkin said Gourmet Traveller tried to 'spread the love' as much as possible and actively sought out smaller restaurants who do not have PR for coverage

Ms Hunkin said Gourmet Traveller tried to ‘spread the love’ as much as possible and actively sought out smaller restaurants who do not have PR for coverage

Ms Fanning then addressed the editor directly, telling her a large percentage of small restaurant owners were being overshadowed by larger groups. 

‘I think you’re missing the part that a large percentage of small business owners feel this way,’ she wrote. 

‘I mentioned you were part of the problem, not the whole problem – every publication plays their part.

‘I’d love to understand your strategy both online and print to see how you are putting small business who are the back bone of the Australian hospitality industry front and centre,’ she said.

‘Big, flashy spaces and key industry leaders take up a large portion of the media landscape and it doesn’t sit right with a lot of industry people.’

Ms Fanning said she wanted industry experts to be listened to as a growing number of small businesses are forced to pull the plug. 

‘My aim was not to come across as negative, but to hopefully gain the attention of people who will care. I can see GT is trying, but ultimately it’s coming across as the big guys getting a lot of air time to the detriment of the smaller guys,’ she said. 

Daily Mail Australia has contacted Ms Fanning, Ms Hunkin and Ms Bedek for comment. 

Pictured: Gourmet Traveller editor Joanna Hunkin

Pictured: Gourmet Traveller editor Joanna Hunkin

It comes as a growing number of small operators have been forced to close their doors for good amid increased operational costs during a cost of living crisis. 

In the Gourmet Traveller article that triggered the fury on Instagram, Atilla Yilmaz, the owner of Pazar restaurant in Sydney’s west, said he struggled to compete with larger restaurant groups when it came to retaining staff. 

‘Groups can offer their staff career progression across different venues, uniform bonuses, big tips, even trips overseas, all that stuff,’ he explained. 

Mr Yilmaz questioned if it ‘was even healthy’ for him to be doing so many jobs in his restaurant, including bookings, rosters, payroll and fixing cooking appliances. 

In January, a number of Sydney restaurants were forced to throw in the towel due to the impacts from Covid and a decrease in revenue amid rising inflation.

Lima, formerly located in Walsh Bay, shut down in January after just six months, with Italian restaurant Andiamo Trattoria closing its Abbotsford branch, and popular all-you-can-eat Japanese restaurant Okami closing six branches across the city

A Tavola, a popular Italian restaurant in Darlinghurst was also forced to shut up shop, as well as Flour Eggs Water, and meatball eatery Palle.

Gloomy statistics from a recent CreditorWatch report found that businesses in the hospitality sector have the highest probability of failure in the next 12 months. 



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