Lentil As Anything in fight for survival

The Lentil As Anything Newtown team in December 2018 outside the King St restaurant. Photo: Lentil As Anything Newtown/Facebook.

Lentil As Anything, the not-for-profit restaurant chain famous for its ‘pay what you can afford’ policy, is in a fight for survival after being hit by a Covid-induced slump in trade.

The ethical vegan restaurant – which has an outlet on King Street, Newtown, as well as three in Melbourne – has launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $150,000 by the end of October.

A statement on the fundraising page said the effects of Covid-19, especially on its Melbourne stores, had put the enterprise in jeopardy.

“Today, in the midst of a global pandemic, and serious financial difficulty, the generosity of Lentil As Anything has not waivered. Over the past six months we have been able to feed thousands of people in need – through our restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney, and various food relief projects.

“We refuse to step away from our pay-as-you-feel concept that defines us. However, along with serious monetary shortfalls and large historic debt, we cannot keep up.”

The statement explained that with three of the restaurant’s four outlets under lockdown in Melbourne, “the last six months have seen us serving predominantly those most in need, and therefore least able to make a purely financial contribution”.

“Fixed costs like rent and utilities are causing us to go backwards financially, while pre-Covid expenses remain largely unpaid.”

Community support has so far been strong, with almost 3000 people donating over $100,000 in the two days since the GoFundMe page launched.

“Please donate, any amount matters!” one donor, Tiare Damarko, wrote on the page.

“This place helped me get trained up in waitressing and as a barista, and due to getting great working experience here, helped me find work after being unemployed for two years.”

Another supporter, Ariana Whittington, wrote: “I volunteered here and I saw the amazing things that this place did for people. It needs to continue … as it made life a little easier for people that don’t have it that easy.”

Lentil As Anything – which bills itself as a multicultural, refugee-friendly enterprise – was founded by Sri Lankan-Australian restauranteur Shanaka Fernando in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda in September 2000.

Sydney got its first and only Lentil As Anything restaurant when the Newtown location opened in April 2014.

Sydney vegan and media figure Katrina Fox said Lentil As Anything deserved government support, as it provided an essential service to the community.

“Lentil as Anything is unique in its model of ‘pay what you can afford’ and staff being mostly volunteers. I think social ventures like this need government support as they are offering an important service by providing food that’s better for people, animals and planet to socially disadvantaged and homeless communities,” said Fox, the author of author of Vegan Ventures: Start and Grow an Ethical Business.

“Instead of subsidising animal agriculture, the government needs to start supporting socially-conscious enterprises like this and reward them for doing good,” she told the Sentinel.

Lentil As Anything’s GoFundMe page is located at www.gofundme.com/f/save-lentil-as-anything.

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