Indian Mehfil owners Rajesh and Prianka Sharma will open more than just their restaurant’s doors this Christmas when they continue a tradition of helping the city’s less fortunate.
The couple has been opening their hearts to some of the Ipswich’s most disadvantaged for a few years now.
“We recognise Christmas but don’t really celebrate it and we came in a few years ago on Christmas Day to clean the restaurant,” he said.
“We noticed some homeless people congregating outside of the mall and got talking to them. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories.
“I spoke to my family and we decided that we would open our restaurant for them, and told them not to worry about paying.”
Mr Sharma said the positive impact food and fellowship could have on people was significant, particularly at Christmas.
“A lot of people are very vulnerable, and when you talk to them you hear stories about their family not visiting them, that kind of thing,” he said.
“Christmas can be a very hard time for some people, particularly if they cannot be with their family or loved ones, and we just wanted to do something to help them relax and to give them a bit of a family environment.
“On that day, whoever is doing it tough is welcome, no questions asked.”
Mr Sharma credits his own impoverished upbringing and the example set by his father for his desire to give back.
“Absolutely, dad always taught us life was not just about taking but also giving as well,” he said.
Mr Sharma grew up in the mountain village of Bathra, a small farming community with 58 homes more than eight hours from the bustle of India’s capital of New Delhi.
The family farmed cows and buffalo, and did not have a light in their house for the early years of Mr Sharma’s life.
“I inherited a lot of resilience and values from what I didn’t have, I didn’t even own a bicycle until I was in grade 10 and I had to work selling mangoes to help buy it,” he said.
Mr Sharma excelled at school and with the support of his father, who took out a bank loan against the family’s farm to help his son progress, he came to Australia in 1999 to continue his education and study hotel management.
He made the most of the move and together with his family, now owns Indian Mehfil and 116 Laneway Cafe in Ipswich, two restaurants in Brisbane and two bottle shops; employing a total of more than 50 staff.
“The support we have received from the Ipswich community since we opened nine years ago here has been just wonderful, so it’s important for us to give back,” Mr Sharma said.
“We would not be in a position to do so without the ongoing support of the community.”
The Christmas lunch is also an important opportunity for Mr Sharma to pass on to his children the values his father instilled in him.
His two young children will this year again join the family in the restaurant as they welcome those less fortunate.
“The first year we did it I think my son was a little overwhelmed with the experience but they enjoy it. They help us serve the food and clean up,” Mr Sharma said.
“It’s very important to me that they understand the reality of life and that there are people who are less fortunate, and that we should help them when we can.”
Indian Mehfil works with local welfare agencies to get the word out about its Christmas lunch. It is not open for regular trade on Christmas Day.