A social media campaign is winning significant support for an iconic not-for-profit restaurant threatened with closure in the inner Melbourne suburb of Abbotsford.
An impassioned response from Lentil As Anything devotees has seen hashtags #HumansOfLentil and #KeepLentilAtAbbotsford created, while a petition containing more than 9000 signatures has been circulating online and in each of the chain’s six venues.
Lentil As Anything has had a home at the former Abbotsford convent for 11 years and employs 60 people who serve more than 1800 vegetarian meals a day. The restaurant operates on a pay-as-you-feel basis, where diners pay only what they think their meal was worth, or can afford.
But last month, the Abbotsford Convent Foundation (ACF), the eatery’s landlord, placed an advertisement in The Age seeking expressions of interest from other businesses to tender for the lease. Lentil As Anything was not specifically invited to submit a proposal.
The founder of Lentil As Anything, Shanaka Fernando, told The Newsroom the ACF had never valued the restaurant or the contribution it has made to the former convent’s culture.
“The problem we’ve encountered with the Abbotsford Convent has been ongoing since the CEO took over six months into our tenancy. We have never been given the impression that we are appreciated. The ACF is very uncomfortable with the riff-raff that comes to Lentil – the homeless, the prostitutes, the drug addicts,” Mr Fernando said.
Lentil’s social media manager, Cil Phelps, agreed.
“Without Lentil, the convent may have turned into an exclusive gated bourgeois art precinct, instead of one less concerned about money than value for all in our society,” Ms Phelps said.
Rob Leslie, CEO of Yarra Community Housing, has been the landlord of Lentil As Anything’s Footscray restaurant for seven years. He’s never had a problem with the chain during their tenancy, and is thrilled with what the eatery has done for the Footscray community in inner-west Melbourne. Based on his history with the Lentil chain, Mr Leslie said he was perplexed by the ACF’s decision.
“Why would you tender out a site that is so loved by so many? A site is generally tendered out if it’s redundant and needs to be activated. That’s certainly not the case here,” he said.
Proposal submissions for the Abbotsford site will be accepted until the close of business today.
Abbotsford Convent Foundation CEO, Maggie Maguire told The Newsroom the responses would be “shortlisted by an independent food industry expert and recommendations about the final selections made by the Abbotsford Convent Foundation’s Hospitality Reference Group”.
When asked about the support being shown for Lentil and the influence this would have on the ACF’s final choice, Ms Maguire said she guaranteed that the decision would be based “solely on the best interests of the convent and its one million visitors a year”. – Samantha Reed
Top photo of Lentil As Anything’s outside eating area, Abbotsford, by Sarah Allen.