Opening a new restaurant during a global pandemic doesn’t sound like a good thing, but for restauranteur Mikaela Mulvaney, it has allowed for precious time to focus on community.
Dāna Eating House is a new South East Asian restaurant and cocktail bar in the heart of Hobart’s CBD. Co-owned by brothers Dan and Ollie and managed by Mikaela, Dāna Eating House combines hospitality and philanthropy in an inspiring business model. Dāna is Sanskrit for “the practice of cultivating generosity.” Dāna Eating House is built around the ethos that doing something is 100 per cent better than doing nothing.
A portion of the profits from every meal is donated to charity, with an offer for customers to match it. For Mikaela, it is imperative that this aspect of the business is also completely voluntary. There are no flyers, and images of the charity won’t be found in the restaurant to ensure that people don’t feel guilty or obligated to donate. This was a deliberate and firm choice said Mikaela, to show how small acts of giving can have a big impact.
Over a rotational period, Dāna partners with a local and nationwide charities and not-for profit organisations, with a focus on effective altruism. Issues that are close to the heart of the Dāna team and local causes in need of a greater voice are key to the selection criteria. So far, Mara House, the Against Malaria Foundation, Migrant Resource Centre Tasmania and the Indigenous Literacy Foundation have all been beneficiaries of Dāna and the Hobart community’s generosity.
Within three months of opening, nearly $7000 has been raised for charity. For Mikaela, this response from the community has been incredibly positive, with most diners choosing to match Dāna’s donation or better it.
“To put it into perspective: initially, the charitable model was such that we aimed to support a charity or not-for-profit every three months, which would roughly work out to be four charities per year, as this is how long we expected it may take us to raise an amount of money that could make a meaningful impact,” Dana told Togatus.
“This idea tickles us now as we move into our third month of trading, supporting our fourth charity, as the reception has been so overwhelmingly positive.”
Reflecting on COVID-19’s undeniable impact on her industry, Mikaela believes that the silver lining is a greater appreciation for the hospitality industry and its workers. Reminiscing about the end of lockdown and the return of patrons, the energy was described as electric.
“There was a shift that really felt tangible; after weeks of lockdown and the privilege of dining out in a restaurant had been taken away from us — conversation was rich, waiters were excited, diners were grateful, forgiving and the experience was joyous — just how the giving and receiving of food should be.
“This is a feeling I want to hold onto for a while, and I hope one that patrons too are not quick to forget.”
Opening a new restaurant during one of the most challenging times for our hospitality industry sounds arduous. However, Dāna Eating House stands as a testament to Tasmanian ingenuity and the infallibility of friendship and community spirit. The lockdown of our island state has allowed for a heightened sense of community and the opportunity to build something special that will continue to give back.
Images: EunJee Hyeon