The impact of Covid-19 on hospitality industries has been devastating, as some venues continue to struggle to stay afloat.
The damage has been so severe it has resulted in some being unable to reopen their doors once lockdowns were lifted.
Lentil As Anything, the iconic 'pay as you can' restaurant in Sydney's Inner West— known for supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged people right across the community — was forced to shut after a rent agreement couldn't be reached.
Head chef and manager Nisha was faced with the day she's been dreading this week when she arrived at the premises only to find the locks changed.
"I thought maybe I've got the wrong key," she told Yahoo News Australia.
"Then I tried again and I realised we'd been locked out."
With income and donations severely dropping during the pandemic, the restaurant, which has also come under financial strain at its Melbourne eateries, unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a discounted rent, Nisha said.
Patrons at Lentil As Anything are encouraged to donate what they can either through a gift of labour, skills or “pay as you feel”.
Major loss for the community, head chef says
Nisha had been managing the Newtown restaurant since September, saying she had to rebuild her entire staff when she started as head chef.
"I created this whole team. We all opened the restaurant and we started operating usual hours up to seven days a week lunch and dinner," she explained.
She said the team is devastated with the outcome.
Nisha said she's worried about the impact the loss of the restaurant will have on the wider community, as it provides affordable meals for some people who may not be able to afford it otherwise.
"What is going to happen to all those regulars who come every day to get food from us? Where are they going to go?" she said. "If people cannot afford to buy full-priced food, this was their place to come."
Describing the establishment as a "home for everybody to come and eat", Nisha said their regular customers include elderly people with disabilities, asylum seekers or from disadvantaged backgrounds.
"They're people who can't afford full meal prices and are homeless or need that support or have lost a place."
Nisha still harbours hope Lentil As Anything can continue in the premises to help people that need it.
"I have lost this whole thing that I felt I had created and it was my whole world," Nisha said.
"It's very sad. It is so sad the doors of Lentils are shut."
Community rallies around much-loved 'institution'
There has been an outpouring of support on social media after Lentil As Anything announced its closure.
"This is so heartbreaking. Thank you for everything you’ve done for the community," one person wrote.
Several users described the restaurant an "institution".
"Lentils is such a little oasis for so many," one comment read.
"Thank you for feeding so many and for your incredibly generous concept, I truly hope you find a new spot, rest assured we will all support you once again," another said.
A GoFundMe page for the restaurant was started in December as it revealed it was "struggling to keep our doors open".
It has so far raised over $12,000.
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