Is Lentils As Anything, a pay-what-you-feel restaurant chain, in trouble?

Lentil As Anything has fed the disadvantaged and let customers pay whatever they feel a meal is worth for almost two decades.

It was was created by Shanaka Fernando for his local community in St. Kilda around.

Shanaka set up the first Lentil As Anything as “Australia’s first modern social enterprises.”

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In 2007, Shanaka was also awarded Australia’s Local Hero/Social Challenger at Australian of the Year Awards.

It became famous as a restaurant that provided food to anyone who dropped in and payment was based on a contribution model.

Lentil as Anything encouraged patrons to donate what they could either through a gift of labour, skills.

But it was soon marred by investigations of Fair Work Ombudsman into wage underpayment and the Australian Tax Office into unpaid superannuation bill.

According to the Age, the enterprise owed staff at least $155,000 in unpaid superannuation.

In 2020, the enterprise was almost on the brink of insolvency.

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It was luckily bailed out by a GoFundMe campaign.

Thousands of Australians donated over $370,000 via GoFundMe during October to save Lentil As Anything from closing their doors due to the economic uncertainty of COVID-19.

To give back to the community, Shanaka Fernando said:

“We’ve seen first-hand the impact of economic hardship faced by many Australians this year with the demand for our community outreach programs significantly increasing since the pandemic took hold.”

Shanaka quit the board last year and Megan Evans was made the new Chair.

Megan admitted to the Age there had been problems in the social experiment but they were working with the authorities.

“It’s been a very awful, tricky situation … lack of expertise or capacity to meet regulatory deadlines.”

According to Megan, the enterprise is staffed by volunteers and paid staff who were “short-changed because they were paid under the wrong workplace award.” 

On April 1, Lentil As Anything posted something on their Facebook page that raised many eyebrows about the enterprise.

People were devastated by this news and their comments showed the appreciation they had for this social enterprise.

This news of the St. Kilda restaurant closing down turned out to be an April Fool’s joke to raise awareness about the enterprise.

Due to the COVID pandemic, the number of Australians seeking food relief at least once a week has doubled.

Shanaka has rejoined the organisation and looking for all the support to help the enterprise.

With its core value to serve and create ‘healthy human community’, Lentil As Anything in Melbourne and Sydney is working on providing meals for the homeless.