Was Michael Probst Buying Golden Corks & Diamond Olives?

(Unhappy Franchisee)  How did the Cork & Olive franchisor amass $2.5 million in debt in 4 years… especially when 9 franchisees ponied up nearly hald a million in $60K franchise fees… and paid for their store buildouts? 

Why would he close the company stores rather than selling them as franchises?

Where’s the $2.5 million in golden corks and diamond-encrusted olives he must have purchased? 

According to the Orlando Business Journal:

Cork & Olive store closures blamed on financing issues

The bloom is gone at Estate Wine Group Inc., known as Cork & Olive: Company executives shuttered its seven corporate stores last week.

The retailer was founded in 2004 and grew to 16 stores from Clearwater to Orlando, including franchisees. Now, they are left to fend for themselves.

Cork & Olive President Mike Probst, who told the Business Journal in 2005 he wanted to be the Starbucks of wine, says his funding fell through. "I had too much belief in only one source," he says.

Estate Wine has nearly $500,000 of operational debt and $2 million of internal debt, the latter owed to the franchise corporation. Without an infusion of $3 million, its future is bleak, Probst says.

Commenter James Wilson adds:  "In addition to the 2 million of internal debt, the $500,000 of operational debt, Probst also is in debt for the surly dissociation of partnership with [CEO & Investor Tom] Ronzino.   Ronzino never received liquidation of the original partnership intentionally ignored by Probst…. Probst commented ‘I had too much belief in only one source,".One source, is that code word for "the hundreds of individuals you screwed royally?’"

Related stories:  Cork & Olive Wine Franchisor Folds; Franchisees Scramble to Survive, Cork & Olive Franchise Corp. Collapse: What’s the REAL Story?, What REALLY Uncorked Cork & Olive Franchise Corp? (Unhappy Franchisee), Cork & Olive Wine Shop Franchise Owners Left High & Dry (Unhappy Franchisee)



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26 thoughts on “Was Michael Probst Buying Golden Corks & Diamond Olives?

  • June 16, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    UnhappyFranchisee.com is dedicated to exposing the other side of franchising – and giving franchisees a voice amidst the din of hype and propaganda. We’re supported solely by donations and those attractive SPONSORED LINKS.
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  • June 16, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    the golden corks and diamond olives have been consumed into probst and his sidekicks stomachs and wallets… mind you… not one employee has ever been explained why the ‘sudden closing’, let alone an apology for screwing up everyone’s lives… not to mention there last paycheck…. how in the HELL is this guy and Ms. N able to sleep and continue to work while pulling in a check…. what the hell is going on????? why does’t the law step in… what are they waiting for???? oh…. maybe they’ll catch Ms. N at the airport as she departs on her runaway to hide excursion…. always remember.. you BOTH can RUN but you can’t HIDE!!! (I hope something happens soon cuz I need some cheering up since I lost my DAMN JOB because of both of those idiots!!!

  • June 16, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    Silence, Where is justice? Why isn’t Nelson and Probst behind bars already? Hopefully everyone will be cheered up when we see them both on the news in handcuffs. The two of them have been sleeping every night, soundly I am sure from the beginning. Remember all the stores that were owned corp.- there all owned with other peoples money. He had notes on all of them. Why aren’t those individuals contacting authorities? He didn’t pay workman’s comp. I called on that one. All he did was pay a fine. Big deal. Is it easier for the gov. officials to look the other way even when people are being stolen from. I was told when I tried to blow the whistle, “the case isn’t big enough, the DA wouldn’t be interested.” Not big enough? How many peoples lives have to be destroyed before it is big enough?
    The man drinks every night and drives home. Called the police about that too. Probst knowingly sold franchises when he was in a lawsuit. SEC says you can’t do that, Probst knew this. Yet again he continued to take peoples money.
    I am not going to stop posting, hope everyone will do the same. If you have something to say, do so. Probst got away with stealing, not paying taxes, going against the securities and exchange commission, inported wine, distributed, and the sold retail.
    Lets see convinced a certain Tampa attorney to sell stocks to Ronzino and then never issued them. To this day still hasn’t issued the worthless stock. Maybe he didn’t issue them because at the time he wrote up the stock purchase and employment agreement he knew it was bogus.

  • June 17, 2008 at 5:50 am

    My business partner and I had a bad feeling about Probst and Nelson. We felt the overall concept was solid but company managment style was unsettling. We never the less contracted to do the furnishings for future stores. We sent contracts in January for the Orlando store and did not receive the required deposit until mid April. Hearing there was going to be a new money partner coming enabled us to hang in. I am glad we did or the last franchisee in Orlando would not have received anything at all. If we can be of assistance please give us a call.

    Black Mountain Metal Works

  • June 17, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    When Ronzino received a compulsory dismissal, Estate Wine Group Inc. should have published their obituary. Once Ronzino, former CEO of Cork&Olive Franchise Corp. disappeared, sales of franchises vanished. In July of 2007, the Tampa Bay Business Journal published an article that stated “Estate Wine Group, Cork & Olive’s parent company, has sold one third of its shares to an Orlando investor, Tom Ronzino…” Ronzino was responsible for the growth of the company, until Ronzino came along, not one franchise had been sold. It has been reported in court records that Ronzino is in litigation with Probst [President of Estate Wine Group, Inc.] for his shares. With Chapter 11 filed late last week, Ronzino unfortunately will never see the shares, & did he ever?

  • June 17, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    David ….. sorry you were brought into this mess, but i will say that your ‘relative’ that used to work at the corp office was a mess herself. not only did she not know how to answer the phone and be nice but was downright rude at times. many times i’d call there and she wouldnt even be at her desk—oh wait…….. she was probably on the phone again outside as usual. i think she slept with that phone!she didn’t know if she was coming or going half the time and had an attitude with anyone who talked to her———she needs to get back on her medicine or return to school to refresh those brain cells of hers! that was no love lost when i heard she was canned!

  • June 17, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    wanda, i am so with you about keeping the posting going. i want to see justic as well. we lost a ton of money too. i want to see all three of them behind bars president mike vp stephanie nelson and of course the welcome to the family deborah augenti. they have taken so much from so many people and messed up so many lives. i can’t understand how they aren’t in jail. every day we think of how we are going to try and recovery what we have lost and he is drinking and driving around town looking for his next person to con out of money. he is smooth i will give him that.

  • June 17, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    in case anyone is curious check out
    http://www.hillsclerk.com pinellas county courts websites. plenty of public knowledge for your reading pleasure. remember all four searches: estate wine group, cork and olive, cork and olive franchise and michael probst. you shouldn’t be amazed as to how much info you will come across and how many suits are and have been pending!
    only at cork and olive…………… you can’t make up crap like this!!!

  • June 17, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    Dear Wanda,
    wanted you to know that as soon as we hear what stores our buddy is reopening we’ll be sure to let you and everyone else know so we can be first in line to enter under the GRAND REOPENING SIGNS and hopefully a sign on the door will read UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT… since when they closed the signs read BEING REPAIRED!! I dont believe any stores or businesses that Probst is affiliated with are capable of being repaired do you? are you interested in going to the grand reopening by chance? heehee

  • June 17, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    I feel sure the money for the furniture was sent in to the corp. office on time. Unfortunately Probst and Nelson used the money to pay bills, go out to eat, pay the mortgage payment, etc. So when you needed the deposit for the materials to make the furniture it wasn’t available. Then when the franchisees wondered where their furniture was they would call corp. and Nelson told them you were slow and the furniture would be sent out in 2 weeks…… SECRETS AGAIN>

    PS: franchisees you were up charged for everything, including the furniture.

    Don’t forget everything was going to occur in 2 weeks…… the new glassware, salts, choc.

    How about all the advertising the corp. office was going to do for the franchisees?

  • June 17, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    Dear Silence,

    Oh I would love to go to a grand reopening or grand jury which ever comes first. HA
    He will never be able to reopen. Unfortunately he owes back lease payments on all the stores. He owes interest payments on all the bonds he has on all the stores. He hasn’t paid workman’s comp.,health insurance wasn’t paid at times, the wine in the stores is stored wrong and some franchisees have told me it is bad. The olive oil was sent from the distributors and he would have the employees fill the glassware that came out of the boxes they were sent in, (they never washed them). The nice olive oil containers in the stores were never cleaned either. GROSS! The employees were instructed by Probst and Nelson to bring in food from home for sip and dip. Also illegal and gross. Why in the world would employees help their employer do things that they know are wrong? Better yet the employer didn’t take care of them. Paychecks were late or bounced, they were yelled out and belittled. Secrets Again. Funny I was told by Probst that his Daddy sent him to boarding school after the war. Not many people had money in Germany after the war. Interesting?

  • June 21, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    We were responsible for the new website along with the corporate and franchise portal. We have not been given any direction as to what to do with the corporate website (www.corkandolive.com) and the fee is paid through June. After June the site will more than likely come down unless corporate is going to pay to continue to host it. If the franchises are forming any sort of group and want they want to discuss keeping the site live, we can talk. I’m not sure who owns the domain or the right to the site – but let us know if we can help. We were also doing the monthly Table Talk newsletter using a e-based system and again, we have not been given any direction with this service. But again, we can continue to do this for the franchises. Just let us know. We enjoyed working with the C&O brand – it was really a fun product to be creative with. Thank you to all of you and we wish each of you continued success and hope your stores can manage to survive. To all the employees who lost their jobs, we are sorry for your loss. Hopefully something good will come from this and you will find this all behind you soon.

  • June 23, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Speaking as a former bottle supplier for some of the oils and the vinegars they sold – what you saw happen here is why we gave up giving credit about 7 years ago to ALL customers… a credit card serves as credit and suppliers get paid… this is a shame – a true shame for the franchise holders – we sell many franchise stores for a competing chain of specialty olive oil stores – started when their foreign owned corporate went through much the same thing… the stronger managed stores survived and thrived… the same can hold true for you guys … proud to say we still sell a few of them who learned their lesson in “one sided” supply chains! …. wishing you all the best … Bob Lieberman, Managing Director / http://www.wholesaleglassbottles.com

    PS: We could have written this final chapter – when an order was placed and confirmed overseas by us for special bottles and we worded into the agreement that it was based on the deposit being received by a specific date for Euro conversion purposes – then 2 weeks later we noticed them that the rate had changed and the price was .03 each more – were told that Michael would not do business that way – though that was the basis of the sale – we canceled the order … kinda glad we did …

  • June 23, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    Has anyone thought that when things starts getting a little rougher that Mr. Probst might decide to leave the country? and then he might be home free without any obligations whatsoever??? Does anyone know of a way to make sure that he cannot leave? Do the airlines needs to be alerted or whom ever can be contacted so this cannot happen??? ANY IDEAS??? We cannot allow him to just pick up and leave!

  • June 23, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    For ex-employees that were not paid their last paycheck:

    The department of labor reports that in order to collect unpaid wages under Ch. 11, you must file a claim with the local bankruptcy court. The form to do so is found online:


    The case number is: 08-08338-MGW and it is free to file the claim.

    Send to:
    801 N Florida Ave. Tampa, FL 33602

    I hope that this helps!

  • June 23, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    Unpaid wages are a priority claim – if there are any assets that are not covered under UCC filings with the State first… so payroll is before almost anyone … the trustee comes first -the government second – post bankruptcy rent thrid – then employess (I am doing this from memory – but I think I am correct here) …


    regertfully – “well now “- in this country – bankruptcy and deceitful dealings are not crimes – only the government can stop someone from leaving – and that is only after they have been charged with a crime – that is the price we pay for democracy … and compounding this – isn’t he a foreign national?

    In reading all this – it appears this man is not someone of sound character – but it also appears that on the surface he did not break any laws… other than those of good moral character….

    Did he steal money? Depends on how you look at it.. but as the “controlling” party to this company he can take whatever he wants… does he owe back taxes and payroll obligation? Probably – but again this is not a crime – unless he fails to pay the withheld taxes from actual dispersed payroll…. the rest is just civil – one person against another – with no real resolution other than perhaps satisfaction in getting a judgement,

    I in no way condone the amoral behavior of this predatory individual .. I abhor people like him.. in my past I closed up a 21 store retail chain I owned in the 80’s
    based in Bradenton – but I paid ALL my employees – ALL my suppliers until I had broken my personal wealth. (and I was very very comfortable from other investments at the time) … this is unusual – and no I am not a martyr … but each man has to live with his own moral codes – sadly most of his type appear to have none… and unless he actually broke specific laws – not just lied to people – unless he stole money -that means took it without recording it back to himself as a loan – repayment of a loan – dividend – expense (and yes meals are a legal – though not fully tax deductable expense in most instances if business was discussed at the meal) – then he committed no crime… again other than lying and manipulating honest people.

    I wish our laws were different… but this is one of the prices we pay to live in a democracy … there are always people like him out there in the world… preying on others – with no regards to their faith, suffering, or losses…. and sadly even thorough research may not have revealed enough flaws to have RUN from this investment or job.

    If the DA for city, state and US Attorney do not find cause for criminal prosecution – you are left with only civil… and civil suits can not “keep him from leaving” the country…. even with judgements – and judgements do NOT mean you can actually collect … that is the sad truth

    Better to go forward now – and try to resolve the current issues you or others may have – than spending good money chasing after bad – I would sue him in small claims – or pay a local attorney a couple hundred bucks for circuit court – get my judgement – and hope someday he slips up and leaves money around you can grab… but trust me on this – a judgement is only as good as your ability to find unecombered assets to seize… and people like this do not leave any asset unencumbered…

    Once a scum… always a scum…. sad but true…

    Best of luck to all … Bob

  • June 23, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    PS: It saddens me as a businessman to see that he did not have the class to pay people for the time worked…. that is a disgrace… and our hearts go out to the C&O employees who ended up working for basically “free” the last week or 2 … best of luck to all of you … Bob Lieberman http://www.wholesaleglassbottles.com

  • June 24, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    What are the other license owners (who have not opened) doing about the franchise fee? I may be in deep, deep denial, but there has GOT to be something we can do about all that money… ??

  • June 25, 2008 at 12:30 am

    Dear Heartbroken:

    To put it bluntly, YOU ARE SCREWED! Probst took your money and you will never see it again! That’s his MO!

  • June 25, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Michael has probably fled the country – Starbucks sales of expresso has declined since the fail of the “Evil Empire”.

    Yes Michael, Deborah & Stephanie I hope you read these posts – see how your ex-employees feel about you.

    Clearwater store – we called them Corporate seagulls…They flew in s%&t on you and flew away.

  • June 25, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    I still see Michael hanging around Starbucks..he hasn’t fled the country yet..I’m sure he has his suitcase packed, though! He’d have to be a fool to stay in this country.

    btw does everyone know that he was a used car salesman in Germany?? Yes – A USED CAR SALESMAN!! Doesn’t that give you a better insight as to his mentality now??

  • June 26, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    Dear unemployed, he’s waiting to sell some more wine in order to get funds to return to germany. Word has it that his personal bank account has also been seized. can someone please lend him a few dollars so he can have a coffee before Friday mornings hearing???

  • July 2, 2008 at 11:28 am

    The Cork and Olive Website is gone, shouldn’t the franchisees get to use it?

  • July 3, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    Wanda, the domain name is owned by:

    Registered by:
    Cork and Olive
    Sylvia Marnie
    po box 6
    Anna Maria, Fl 34216

    Created on…………..: Thu, Jul 24, 2003
    Expires on…………..: Sat, Jul 24, 2010
    Record last updated on..: Sun, May 25, 2008

    Administrative Contact:
    Cork and Olive
    Stephanie Nelson
    12070 Race Track Road
    Tampa, FL 33626
    Phone: +1.8007090997

    Technical Contact:
    Cork and Olive
    Stephanie Nelson
    12070 Race Track Road
    Tampa, FL 33636
    Phone: +1.8136760415

    The webiste is hosted by Lightning Technology (Stephanie Frank). I’m sure if they contact her she’d be more than willing to put the site back up…Phone: 813-814-2888 http://www.teamlightning.com.

  • July 4, 2008 at 6:53 am

    Isn’t Sylvia Marnie a stockholder in the company? hmm. dont you just love it that Ms. Nelson was the “technical” contact – like she had any technical experience! HA But wait – she was not anything on paper just did what michael told her, but wait she’s not responsible for anything? I still say she was an “Acting” officer therefore she is just as responsible. We couldn’t go to the bathroom without asking – you think Michael would approve? HA

  • July 12, 2008 at 5:25 am

    ok so I was told there was a hearing this past Friday? anyone know what happened?

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