RIP to a real one: beloved pay-what-you-can restaurant Lentil As Anything is closing its three Melbourne stores at the end of February.
Back in January, the restaurant’s only Sydney store closed too. Manager Nishat Merchant told Broadsheet at the time that she rocked up one morning to find the locks changed. A true dog act if there ever was one.
Now, the three Melbourne stores in St Kilda, Brunswick and Abbotsford are shutting down too.
It’s a massive blow to the community, given Lentil As Anything’s commitment to providing vegan food for whatever price customers could afford.
Shanaka Fernando, the chain’s founder, said that the pandemic had really taken a toll.
“The backpackers and uni students were about 70 per cent of our clientele, and they made up a similar number of the 5000 volunteers we needed annually as well to supplement our paid workforce,” he said in a statement.
“But with the closing of the borders our numbers dwindled considerably.
“We still provided about 100,000 free meals during the lockdowns, but we are now in a position where our income is not meeting the cost of our outgoings.”
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Fernando was accused of allegedly using Lentil As Anything for personal financial gain in a report leaked back in 2021.
According to The Age, the allegations also included hiring a friend as a “ghost employee” and misuse of government grants.
The report was conducted by forensic accountants RSM and commissioned by previous board members of the restaurant.
Fernando has consistently denied all of the allegations.
There have been multiple crowdfunding efforts to save Lentil As Anything. It raised $373, 985 back in late 2020 which prolonged the restaurant’s life. But GoFundMes set up in January this year didn’t raise enough to save the restaurant.
“I know it has helped out many thousands of people whether they are local or from overseas. And to see how many people have worked or volunteered at Lentil and gone on to successful lives and careers is very satisfying,” Shanaka Fernando said.
“We have tried to hang on as long as we could, but it is now untenable.”