The pandemic has changed many things, but there are some things it hasn’t changed at all.
Restaurants have had to close their doors, but people still need to eat. That includes the homeless and those who can’t always swing a grocery or restaurant bill.
Kazi Mannan, owner of Sakina’s Halal Grill in Washington, D.C., knows this and has made a serious effort to feed everyone who comes through his doors, paying customer or not.
“If you can’t afford a meal, come in and have a free meal,” he said. “Enjoy the same atmosphere that everybody who is paying is enjoying.”
The Persian restaurant, just blocks from the White House, became famous not only for its delicious food and beautiful atmosphere but for the generous approach Mannan has taken in his operation. In 2018, the restaurant served about 16,000 free meals.
“We have so many that are like a regular guest,” he said, referring to the non-paying regulars. “We know them and what they want to eat. Some have teeth problems so we give them boneless chicken, tender ones. For some, the alcohol and the drugs, a lot of people have teeth problems.”
“People have fear that a lot of homeless people have mental issues, health issues, they are dirty, not clean, and if you let them come in they will ruin your business. I tell them, ‘Look at my life and look at my restaurant — does this look dirty to you?'”
His heart for the hungry goes back to when he first arrived in America with $5 to his name and built his success from the ground up.
“Once upon a time, I was in a similar situation where I didn’t have enough money to eat,” he explained. “You pass by a restaurant but never able to go in. When you don’t have money, nobody is going to let you in.”
At the time of the interview, Mannan didn’t want donations, saying, “I’m trying to worship our Creator through food.” But that was in 2019, and 2020 has been a different beast entirely.
Sadly, Sakina’s Halal Grill had to close for several months.
“We are missing to serve you again soon,” its Facebook page shared on April 14. “May God bring us together soon.”
From there, the issues snowballed. Mannan couldn’t afford the rent and couldn’t offer free food — a fact that broke his heart.
“Right now we are in a bad shape and unable to pay rent,” he said during a desperate plea for help through WJLA on Nov. 13. “I am unable to pay my mortgage.”
A GoFundMe was set up for Sakina’s Halal Grill. People touched by the story and mission of the restaurant gave generously, and just a few days later, Mannan had happy tears.
“Few days ago when you did the story on me that how I am struggling, and I have tears of fear,” Mannan said in an update. “I have today tears of joy!”
“The thing that is hurt me is if someone can walk in — I can’t offer them food. It’s built inside of me. And someone asked me it hurt me very much and say I’m sorry I can’t help you because I myself don’t have money to buy food … Heartbreaking for me to ask public to come out and support me.”
As of Friday afternoon, the fundraiser had raised over $283,000. Mannan has promised that it will be put to good use.
“I promise you all I won’t disappoint you,” he said. “We going to do a bigger things.”
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