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Shaun Christie-David and his business partner, Peter Jones-Best, have suffered exponentially as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Their restaurant, Colombo — a Sri Lankan Bar and Kitchen, which opened in Sydney’s Enmore in November 2019, had to close its doors when the COVID-19 restrictions were put in place.
While there was still the option to keep the takeaway side running, Christie-David and Jones-Best, made the decision instead to shut up shop indefinitely.
They have now teamed up with their suppliers and Mission Australia and are planning to cook over 2,000 hot and nourishing meals per day, offering them free of charge to those people in need.
I spoke to restauranteur Christie-David about the incredible initiative, and what it means to pay it forward.
Anita Lyons: Shaun, this is such an incredible initiative and so wonderful for you to think of others during such a stressful time for you. How is this initiative working?
Shaun Christie-David: Right now we’re funding everything. We’re funding the purchases of all of the food and salaries of all our staff just to get this project moving.
Late last night we had some great news that Oz Harvest had come on board and they’re giving us a shipment of food today. Then we’ve had the Addison Road community centre, they’re one of the food sponsors for us as well as for disadvantaged communities and they’ve said they’re going to give us some food going forward. So, any donations we get in that day, we’ve got a team of guys that just go out there and cook it and then package it up for meals.
AL: Have you hit 2000 plates yet?
SCD: We want to scale up to 2000. We can’t yet but we were pushing out trial runs this week, just to get the whole operations done. We’re up to about 550 meals currently done since Tuesday.
AL: Why was it important for you to begin Plate It Forward?
SCD: We wanted to start a platform to help people. You know, you run businesses and you can pretend to make money and all this stuff but it’s not rewarding. The impact that we want to have is to create long-lasting, sustainable social impact and showcase that there are some incredible people out there in our world that don’t get access to opportunity and give them that. So, that’s why the program started with Colombo Social.
And when this hit, it was a very simple conversation between myself and my business partner. We’ve got people that have high levels of chronic health conditions and now no access to the healthcare sector and they’ve been priced out of the market for food.
If can’t afford groceries right now because it’s so expensive and there’s nothing on the shelves, what about people that are only getting one meal a day?
“The impact that we want to have is to create long-lasting, sustainable social impact.”
These people who are out in public all day and don’t have the ability to self isolate because they’re the homeless and don’t have a place to work from home. The homeless don’t have the ability to apply for leave and they don’t have a home and if they do have a home, it’s a place we’re working with called The Common Ground in Camperdown.
These people don’t have access to food and they don’t have access to
a lot of things. There’s more risk [for them] and they will die if they don’t have food. It’s as simple as that.
AL: What message do you want to send out to the wider public?
SCD: So, our project is just to get immediately on the ground delivering food to those
people that don’t have it and to show Sydney that people care.
What made me the proudest to be Australian was how we banded together as a country and helped everyone. That’s what being Australian is and we need to get back to that during the pandemic.
This problem can only be solved collectively. It can only be done when we all come together and even though we’re all currently being kept apart, we can still do something good.
AL: You have some very experienced chefs jumping on board also. Can you tell me a bit about that?
SDC: We’ve had a whole heap of high-profile celebrity chefs that have just joined our team and say: “well, what can we do together to make this work?”.
It’s heartwarming and beautiful and hopefully, over the next period of time, we can just do this and get those 2000 meals up and out and really, help each other.
We have the Godfather of Sri Lankan cuisine, Kumar Pereira — who was also a MasterChef finalist, Nelly Robinson from Nel Restaurant, Nero Richards from LP Quality Meats, Paul McGrath from The Grounds and Jason Sherwill from Blue Salt Catering. These are the chefs we have that will lead this project and run operations to try and get the best bang for the buck for each meal as well as having high levels of nutrients and being as healthy as possible.
AL: You are driving an incredibly selfless act, but how is Colombo going?
SCD: We’ve closed down our restaurant now and we were going to keep it open for Deliveroo and Uber Eats but this has taken precedence over any kind of revenue. We’re just ceasing all operations and stopping it and taking a short-term hit financially to do that. The thing that we’re facing now is ‘how do we fund the project’ because we can’t afford to keep on funding it going forward. So this week has cost us probably about $7,000 or $8,000 just to keep cooking the meals and pay the staff but will be fine for a while.
From the coronavirus itself, week one of the crisis saw us drop 15%, week two to 35%, three was 50% and then week four was 100%. From a business that was one of the most talked-about for a few months in Australia running to being closed indefinitely.
It was challenging, but we had to make a decision and we made a very, very rapid decision. Do we feel sorry for ourselves? Do we just let it all fall over? Or do we do what we always wanted to do and just go f-ck it. Let’s do something for other people beyond us.
“Do we feel sorry for ourselves? Do we just let it all fall over? Or do we do what we always wanted to do and just go f-ck it. Let’s do something for other people beyond us.”
Some that is as passionate and selfless as Peter is as well, means that this project has great support and we’ve also got a gentleman by the name of Karl Wiebe from Mission Australia who fast-tracked a project that would normally take months, if not years, into two days over the weekend.
AL: There are probably many people reading this, including myself, wondering how we can support you. Is there any way that people can help?
SCD: Right now, we’re just piecing it together but our initiatives have always been called “Plate it Forward” and if you want to help, it’s $10 and you can donate three meals and that’s what we’ve launched now so that we can buy food supplies, and they’re going to run out and donated food will run out, so for us, trying to buy food to keep the project going on working on the volunteer workforce means that we have outgoing costs.
And then trying to expand our kitchen and potentially go to some other kitchens that have been underutilised so that we don’t have any costs associated with everything that gets donated can just get bought into meals and converted that way.
The goal is to come together as a nation. And if this is the greater good to come out of this, it’s people helping their neighbour and helping do something collectively as a nation.