Shanaka Fernando

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Shanaka Fernando (born 1968) is a Sri Lankan-born Australian restaurateur and self-described "social challenger", best known for his founding of the pay what you can chain of restaurants in Melbourne known as "Lentil as Anything".

Early life[edit]

Shanaka Fernando was born in Thimbirigasyaya,[1] a suburb (divisional secretariat) of Colombo, Sri Lanka, to an Irish Catholic mother and a father of Portuguese descent. His household included various members of his extended family, and they were reasonably well off, but he was acutely aware of the poverty that many of his fellow citizens experienced.[2] He attended a Buddhist school and was involved in theatre and choreography.[3] He appeared in productions of Fame and Guys and Dolls.[1]


He came to Australia in 1989[2][4] (or 1995)[5] because of the war he could travel to uni and get around safely. He wanted to study law at the University of Melbourne but dropped out.[5] He travelled extensively in the third world, and was increasingly drawn to social justice issues.[3] He had a series of jobs before hitting on the idea of a pay what you can non-profit vegetarian restaurant, which he opened in St Kilda in 2000 using his own funds. He named it "Lentil as Anything", after the Australian rock group Mental As Anything. At this time he lived in a tent on the St Kilda foreshore.[5] He has since expanded and there are numerous venues operating under the "Lentil as Anything" banner, including one at the former Abbotsford Convent.[6]


In 2007 Shanaka Fernando won the Australian of the Year "Local Hero Award",[3] receiving the award from the then Prime Minister John Howard.[1]

He has been honoured with an Australian postage stamp, and is listed in Who's Who in Australia, 2008 Edition.[1] In 2009 SBS TV produced a series of four television documentaries on Fernando's enterprise, philosophy and struggles[5] (which include a four-year battle with the Australian Taxation Office over a tax bill of $300,000,[6] which was resolved in Fernando's favour by the law on GST being changed to reduce its application to organisations that are non-profit motivated and have no fixed prices).[1]

He has written a book titled "Lentil as Anything: Everybody Deserves a Place at the Table", with Greg Hill, and is often asked to address groups,[7] including sharing the podium with Joan Kirner, a former Premier of Victoria.[8]

Yet, he says he dislikes attention, and has done what he has done in order to influence others to adopt a more appropriate philosophy.[6]


Shanaka Fernando has three children now, from past partners and his current partner.[6] A dispute over unpaid child support benefits resulted in the freezing of his bank account, a matter he says he is willing to fight 'all the way to the High Court', though he insists he is not a 'deadbeat dad'.[9]

In 2011 he faced Melbourne Magistrates' Court over 52 unpaid traffic fines amounting to over $14,000. He claimed that many of them arose through his lending his car to friends and refugees he was helping.[10] At the trial, he explained "My father instructed me that I had a fine tradition to keep up", but the judge was not impressed by this attempt at humour. He is paying off the fine.[6]