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Pay-As-You-Feel Restaurant's Call For Help After 'Unsustainable' Figures Revealed

A pay-as-you-can restaurant struggling to stay afloat turned to its community for help, and received almost $5,000 in support.

Lentil As Anything in the inner Melbourne suburb of Thornbury announced that in one week, it has earned just 67 percent of its running costs.

"This is not sustainable," the restaurant wrote on Facebook.

While the restaurant is designed so that people struggling financially -- including those experiencing homelessness or fleeing domestic violence -- can enjoy a healthy and delicious meal, it partly relies on more financially able members of the community choosing to pay extra for their $12 cost price meal.

"People think that because we're a non-profit, then we get government funding," general manager Dayle Jones told 10 daily.

Lentil As Anything
The message Lentil As Anything left its customers. Photo: Facebook.

"We don't. We pay full rent, electricity, water, wages, we have vans that run on petrol, we have insurance... we have exactly the same running costs as most restaurants, and the rent is fairly high."

Jones said the cash flow problem had been "creeping up" for a while.

"We know winter is a tougher period," she said.

READ MORE: How This Pay-As-You-Feel Restaurant Has Survived

"It's colder, there's less people coming out, people's bills are higher. We try and prepare during summer, and we're aware that we need to cut costs and save where we can, but we had a tough winter last year and we haven't yet recovered from it."

On the first Sunday in August, Lentil As Anything posted that it made less than $500 for 165 meals, which amounted to just $2.95 per meal.

"This doesn't even cover a quarter of our costs for the night," a Facebook post read.

Lentil As Anything
Lentil As Anything rescues plenty of food headed for landfill, as well as using donations from people in the local community. Photo: Facebook.

To help cover these costs, Lentil As Anything asked customers coming into the restaurant to simply pay extra if they could. When other members of the community asked where they could donate further, the fundraiser was set up.

At the time of publication, more than $4,700 has been raised. Jones said it's been a "heartwarming" response.

"It's absolutely amazing," she said. "It really shows that community spirit."

READ MORE: The One Question You Should Be Asking The Homeless

The Lentil As Anything outfit in Thornbury is just one of several operating in Melbourne and Sydney. While the flagship store in St. Kilda has been operating for almost 20 years (the Thornbury venue will turn four this October), some venues have been forced to close due to a lack of funds.

"The Footscray venue [which closed in May 2017] was in the right demographic for people to help, but the flip-side is there are a lot more financially insecure people," Jones said.

Lentil As Anything
Lentil As Anything also runs a pay-as-you-can grocery store, as well as a discounted delivery service of fresh produce. Photo: Facebook.

Dona-Mae Nagoli, former business and operations manager of the only Sydney Lentil As Anything venue, on Newtown's vibrant King St, told 10 daily they weren't as susceptible to the seasonal highs and lows as their Melbourne counterparts.

"Here it's a bit warmer, we don't get hit as hard by the winter," Nagoli said.

"The whole pay-as-you-feel thing is based around trust and generosity, and sometimes it fluctuates. But Sydney is pretty steady."

Lentil As Anything in Newtown has a values of "trust, respect, inclusion and generosity" that volunteers say is embodied by the staff and customers daily. Photo: Facebook.

Despite recent financial struggles, the Thornbury restaurant has been chalking up some significant wins, including rescuing some 44 tonnes of vegan food from landfill since last Christmas, which was then turned into 156,000 meals. It's also continued to foster a welcoming community that in turn up-skills people looking for work, and provides a space for people with mixed abilities who might not be comfortable dining in another space.

And as for speculation that some people might be 'taking the piss' and using Lentil As Anything for a free meal, Jones said you can't dwell on the possibility.

"We're not here to judge. If that's how people choose to be, then so be it," she said.

"I'm sure people have a conscious. I like to think that at some point, they pay it forward, whether it's to us or elsewhere in the community.

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au