Christmas might look a little different for some Aussie families this year with the cost of living crisis continuing to burden households. But one man is making sure no one goes without this festive season and is offering free hot meals for struggling families.
Ray Han is the owner Pharaoh’s Lounge, a middle eastern restaurant in Sydney's Sutherland Shire. He recently noticed customers dropping off and business slowing down, despite the usually busy festive season. After speaking with customers, Mr Han learned the sad truth why, and desperately wanted to help.
"Interest rates and loan repayments are going up and people are struggling to spend money on food," he told Yahoo News Australia. "Eating out isn't a priority anymore and we have to support each other".
Mr Han, an accountant by day who opened the Menai restaurant in May 2021, wants to give back to his "close community", so has decided to open his doors to customers on Christmas Day. "Many Australian families are experiencing the pressure of the rising cost of living and with the festive season just around the corner, the stress is building," he shared on a local Facebook group. "Pharaoh’s Lounge Menai is offering four family meals at no charge for pick up on Christmas Day for families going through difficulties."
The meal on offer, he told Yahoo, is the Pharaoh's Deluxe package which normally costs $95 and comes with an array of menu items. But even if ten families reach out, instead of the four he offered, Mr Han won't "disappoint them" and will provide free food for all.
Mr Han, originally from Egypt but lives in nearby Beverly Hills, told Yahoo it's not just financial struggles burdening people, but the prospect of spending Christmas alone. Because of this, he's also offered anyone without family or friends to join him at his restaurant which will remain open throughout the Christmas period.
"I saw a post on Facebook that said 'if you’re alone at Christmas, let’s do something together,' so I put a comment myself to say, ‘if you’re alone come have a drink with us'," he said.
Business praised by locals
Mr Han spends his weekends at the restaurant getting to know his customers, so it's no surprise his Facebook post was praised by locals.
"You’re very generous and this is such a lovely offering to someone who’s struggling ... to help them out and make their Christmas that little bit more magical, " one said. "What a beautiful thing to do," said another, and dozens more agreed.
Others praised the food at Pharaoh’s which has become somewhat of a meeting spot. People come from all over Sydney to eat the "amazing food" and speak with Mr Han himself.
"What a lovely gesture. The food has always been amazing every time I’ve been. Wishing you a wonderful Xmas and New Year," another local shared.
Resturant owner's pledge to local community
Since opening in May 2021, the restaurant owner is yet to make a profit, but even still, helping his community by offering free food is more important, he revealed. To help save on costs, Mr Han works more himself, to avoid letting go of staff.
"Supplies have increased by 15-30 per cent, but we didn’t pass this increasing cost on to the customer," he said. The reason why, he explained, is because "we don’t want to put too much pressure on them".
Surprisingly, unlike many in the hospitality industry, lockdown was good for the Menai business. Mr Han said 90 per cent of the menu could be done takeaway, so loyal customers continued to return. It was an opportunity for him to give back too.
During lockdown, the business supported workers at a local Covid testing clinic in nearby Barden Ridge, by offering them free food as a thank you for their work. After posting a photo on Facebook, Mr Han said the foot traffic came pouring in. "It's about working together," he said.
Aussies struggling financially this Christmas
The financial burden this Christmas is widespread with over half of Australians admitting to being more stressed about their finances this year compared to last year, a recent survey showed. Additionally, a poll of more than 2000 people, released by the Salvation Army on Friday, showed 21 per cent are concerned about how they will feed their families in the coming weeks.
The charity says multiple interest rate rises combined with devastating natural disasters have added more financial stress to already-struggling families. It comes as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission warned on Thursday many of the factors driving high and volatile prices were "likely to continue".
The figures were worse among Salvation Army clients, with 99 in every 100 saying they were worried about how they will afford Christmas this year.
"These statistics clearly show the dire impact that the cost of living is having on Australians across the country," Salvos' spokesman Bruce Harmer said.
Mr Harmer encourages anyone who needs support this Christmas to reach out, and for those who need a meal, Mr Han said to contact him.
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