Lentil As Anything, a restaurant chain and non-profit project that provides pay-as-you-feel vegetarian and vegan meals to people in need, is experiencing ‘awful’ financial problems – and not just due to the pandemic.
This is according to a leading Australian newspaper.
Whilst the program has been a ‘lifeline’ to many in the wake of COVID-19, it has faced management and wage underpayment issues, a story in The Age claimed.
Lentil As Anything
There are four Lentil As Anything sites across Australia: three in Melbourne, and one in Sydney. Across them around a million meals a year are provided to people in need. Moreover, it’s funded entirely by donations.
The social enterprise program partners with community organizations to serve up meals with donated produce. Additionally, it offers cheap meals to international students.
The average customer pays $4.50 a meal. In the face of the pandemic, the non-profit reported major revenue losses – like many restaurants worldwide.
Despite this, over the pandemic, it provided 1000 free meals a week.
A Go Fund Me page saved the chain last year, raising almost $400,000. At the time, organizers exclaimed: ‘We know we can’t rely on GoFund Me forever. We are frantically working to find ways to adapt to COVID to ensure longer-term sustainability’.
However, it still faced challenges before the pandemic hit. Its founder Shanaka Fernando quit the board last year, before recently rejoining.
Megan Evans, chair of the board, told The Age that a ‘lack of expertise’ over ‘regulatory deadlines’ had led to an ‘awful situation’. However, she firmly believes the social enterprise can work.
However, ‘Its financial accounts from recent years make for grim reading’, added investigative journalist Ben Schneiders in the story.
He said the chain owed staff thousands of dollars in unpaid pension payments. And, it was even investigated by the Ombudsman for wage underpayment.
Saving the vegan restaurant
Evans says the money owed has since been repaid. She added that she welcomes scrutiny and is calling for more volunteers, the newspaper revealed.
The organization is hoping to continue to offer free meals as it ‘believes everyone deserves a seat at the table, together’.
Lentil As Anything is one of many non-profit programs supporting people with vegan food over the pandemic.
An example is Support + Feed. Just this month, founder Maggie Baird enlisted the help of pop star daughter Billie Eilish and actor Joaquin Phoenix to help provide food to a LGBTQ+ youth organization.
Lentil As Anything have been approached for comment.