Metal wok with wooden handle.
Shanaka Fernando was born in Sri Lanka, where he attended a Buddhist school and experienced civil war—including the murder of his Tamil neighbour—first hand. In his early twenties he travelled to Melbourne on a rugby scholarship. He studied law for three years and travelled extensively, but was always drawn to social justice issues. His Lentil as Anything concept, launched in St Kilda in 2000, has expanded around Melbourne. Restaurants opened in Belgrave, in Brunswick in 2003, the Abbotsford Convent in 2005 and Footscray in 2009. In 2005 the cooperative established Lentil as Africa to provide Muslim African women skills to run their own restaurant. Lentil as Anything’s website states that the cooperative feeds 1000 people every day.
In 2010 the Abbotsford Convent Foundation’s decision to not renew the restaurant’s lease sparked community protest. According to the Age newspaper, more than 20,000 people signed a petition calling for the restaurant site to be retained. The petition was tabled in Parliament and the Convent subsequently agreed to negotiate the terms of a new lease with Lentil as Anything.
The cooperative also attracted the attention of the Australian Taxation Office, which in a private ruling in 2007 exempted the ‘pay as you feel’ philosophy from GST. In the same year Shanaka Fernando was declared ‘Australia’s Local Hero’ of the year in the Australian of the Year Awards.