Call to Secure Lentil’s Future at the Abbotsford Convent
This petition had 9,669 supporters
The future of pay-as-you-feel restaurant Lentil As Anything is in jeopardy as its Abbotsford Convent site undergoes a competitive selection process.
Although the 11 year old vegetarian restaurant has proved popular with the Convent community, feeding over 1,800 patrons each day, the Abbotsford Convent Foundation (ACF) announced in The Age on 13 October that it is seeking expressions of interest from other operators.
The Age advertisement invites applications from “creative, energetic, passionate and community minded” hospitality providers who prepare “food on site, artisan products” and offer “genuine hospitality focussed service”. The application process closes on 20th November 2015.
Lentil As Anything received advance notice from the ACF that “it is now timely to undertake an RFP [request for proposal] process” for the premises as “the lease of a another hospitality business expires at the end of December”. The ACF has engaged external advisors Future Foods to manage the process and the ACF board will select a hospitality provider from a short list of candidates. Lentil says it was not specifically invited to submit a proposal and it is not known whether it will make the short list.
The 12 member ACF board holds the power to determine who will service the Convent’s 1 million yearly visitors. It is hoped they will take account of community support for Lentil As Anything, although there is no formal process for community consultation.
Lentil As Anything was one of the first tenants at the iconic Abbotsford arts and cultural precinct and is a major attraction at the site. When its 5 year lease expired in 2011, the ACF initially indicated that it would seek expressions of interest from other operators. This decision drew an impassioned response from Lentil’s supporters and garnered media attention. The two community organisations worked together closely to overcome concerns that the ACF board raised in 2011. Lentil has since continued to operate from the Abbotsford site on a month to month lease.
Beleagured Lentil representatives say they fear the ACF may terminate the lease as early as December this year when the ACF finalises its competitive selection process. At a recent meeting with ACF management, they requested an opportunity to engage with the ACF at board level and reset the terms of Lentil’s tenancy. Lentil’s request was refused. The ACF is cited its Hospitality Policy as the reason for the RFP process.
According to Lentil’s advsior, Shanti Rubens, “the ACF Hospitality Policy states ‘there is no automatic right for an existing tenant to be granted a new lease’. However, it is still open to the ACF board to renegotiate a lease extension with Lentil, as it did in 2011.”
Tasneem Chopra, the chair of Lentil, says “we hope in retaining Lentil’s home, we can preserve the unique fusion of people’s culture, language, socio-economic background, religious diversity and artistic talent they share with us everyday. Such a breadth of diversity represents our norm. Lentil’s community is intrinsically drawn to its eclectic vibe with an international menu, multicultural entertainment and a vibrant team of volunteers who daily greet customers with the warmth of a family welcome. Social inclusion is the cornerstone of Lentil’s indomitable spirit. We enjoy a symbiotic relationship in which we thrive on diverse communities as much as they in turn thrive on our Abbotsford home, for food and belonging.”
Founder Shanaka Fernando was awarded An Australian of the Year for his work with Lentil. He says, “Lentil’s unique pay-as-you-feel model allows people to contribute as much or as little as they are able. People from all walks of life congregate to take a place at the table, enjoying delicious healthy food: eating together as a community and sitting together in an acceptance of diversity that is as remarkable as it is inspiring.”
Using the provision of delicious, nutritious, vegetarian food as a base, Lentil’s activities extend to providing jobs, training, legal assistance, housing, education, sponsorship, creative platforms, excursions, counselling, yoga and a myriad of other forms of support. Lentil has shown a commitment to supporting asylum seekers, helping them on their journey of integrating into their new communities and providing them with a foot hold into the work force.
The Lentil As Anything network includes restaurants in St Kilda, Preston, Thornbury and Sydney. The Abbotsford site is still Lentil’s biggest and acts as the headquarters for its other operations.
It is estimated that in the last year Lentil’s mix of paid and volunteer staff have served over 1 million meals at the Abbotsford site.
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