After 21 years, pay-what-you-can vegan restaurant Lentil As Anything will close its three Melbourne locations at the end of the month.
The news comes after Sydney’s only store, which opened in 2014, suddenly closed in January. Chef and manager Nishat Merchant arrived at work to find the locks had been changed. “It’s like there was a death in the family,” she said. Large format at the time. “We are in shock, we are in mourning.”
The closure of Lentil’s restaurants in St Kilda, Abbotsford Convent and Brunswick (formerly Thornbury) will leave a void in the city’s hotel supply. The company has been providing food for the hungry, cultural meeting spaces for the community and working for asylum seekers since it was founded by Shanaka Fernando in 2000.
But the Covid-related lack of international travelers and students has taken its toll. “Backpackers and college students made up about 70% of our customer base, and they made up a similar number of the 5,000 volunteers we also needed each year to supplement our paid workforce,” Fernando said in a statement. communicated today.
“But with the closure of the borders, our numbers have dropped considerably. We still provided about 100,000 free meals during the shutdowns, but we are now in a position where our income does not cover the cost of our expenses. »
The socially-minded company has struggled with financial hardship throughout the pandemic. He raised over $370,000 via a crowdfunding campaign in 2020, but earlier this year reported it took an additional $400,000 to keep his three Melbourne restaurants open.
But there have also been allegations of financial mismanagement. An audit commissioned by former board members was disclosed to the press in 2021, alleging Lentil As Anything founder Shanaka Fernando engaged in financial mismanagement, used the business for personal gain, abused government grants, and listed a friend as a “phantom” employee. Auditors noted that the state of financial records made it “difficult to assess for or against inappropriate conduct”.
Fernando denies all the allegations.
“We tried to hold on for as long as we could, but it’s now untenable,” the statement continued.
“I’m very honored to see how far the concept has come and I know it has helped thousands of people whether local or from abroad. And to see how many people have worked or volunteered at Slow and successful life and career is very satisfying.
All three restaurants at Lentil As Anything in Melbourne will close at the end of February. Watch Fernando’s statement on the shutdown here.