The social distancing restrictions slowing Sydney to a crawl have left the restaurant industry in turmoil. Once thriving food hubs have fallen silent as people follow government orders to remain indoors. 

But while most food service businesses are doing it tough, some are stepping up to help the homeless and disadvantaged members of the community most vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Shaun Christie-David opened Sri Lankan restaurant Colombo Social in November. To say it has been a tough start for the Enmore Road eatery would be an understatement, but Christie-David still feels compelled to help others.

The Columbo Social team making meals for charity.
The Columbo Social team making meals for charity. Photo: Edwina Pickles

“To us, being business owners comes with a huge level of responsibility,” he says. “If we don’t step up now, everything else we do as a business is irrelevant because when people needed us we weren’t there.”

Serving the community was already a key focus for Colombo Social, a social enterprise which works with charitable organisations to provide refugees with training and work opportunities. But as the pandemic began sweeping the globe, Christie-David realised his mission would need to become broader. 

“There are so many vulnerable people who need support right now and they need it urgently,” he says. “People are battling, it’s horrible.” 

The restaurant has partnered with local charities such as Mission Australia and is aiming to deliver 2000 meals a day for people in need. His phone won’t stop ringing. 

“The amount of people who have reached out to us over the past three days alone has been unprecedented.”

Christie-David says the “restaurant-quality” meals cost about $5 each, but the business is donating the cost of labour and asking donors to give $2 per-meal online to enable them to reach more people. 

Welfare charities are facing a looming crisis as they are hit with surging demand for their services, on top of falling donations and fewer volunteers. This makes initiatives such as Colombo Social’s drive to provide healthy food to marginalised groups all the more valuable. 

In neighbouring Newtown, Hearth & Soul restaurant owner Rachel Jelley is offering free meals to people who have lost work or income due to the pandemic. Between noon and 2pm every Friday, the kitchen provides takeaway food to affected Sydneysiders, although prior registration is required through the restaurant’s website. 

Meanwhile, fried chicken-focused Butter restaurants in Parramatta, Surry Hills and Glebe have launched a pay-it-forward initiative where people can purchase meals as gift vouchers for people in need to claim. And in Harris Park, seven Indian restaurants have partnered to provide free food to international students and others adversely impacted by the crisis. A different restaurant supplies the meals each night of the week.