There are restaurants, and then there are places that welcome you in like a long-awaited guest and make you feel at home. Sakina Halal Grill in Washington, D.C., is the latter.
At first glance, the place looks like a well-maintained restaurant: bright and inviting with tile mosaics and chandeliers. The Indian-Pakistani cuisine is rumored to be delicious and the staff friendly, but that’s not all.
For Kazi Mannan, opening a restaurant has been a life-long dream, finally accomplished in 2013.
“The restaurant has been here for decades. I took it over in 2013 and this really was my dream,” Mannan told Eater. “I came from a village in Pakistan that didn’t have electricity or plumbing. Our school was completely outdoors. It was always my dream to overcome poverty and own a restaurant. And, that’s what I did.”
After years of hard work and taking jobs at a gas station and as a limousine driver, Mannan was able to buy the restaurant and put his own spin on it, including changing the name to “Sakina” Halal Grill to honor his mother, Sakina, who passed about three decades ago.
“I am very blessed to have a truly amazing family,” Mannan said.
“My mother taught me to be generous and give with my time. Because remember, we were broke. But, if we had a guest visit, she would make tea and welcome them into our home. She gave everything of herself. I’m trying to teach that to my family too.”
Not only is he teaching his family, but he has also been an excellent example of charity to the community around him and the rest of the world. That’s because Mannan has a “no questions asked” policy when it comes to paying for food. If you can’t swing it, that’s OK: You can still have a plate of delicious food.
“If someone says I need a free meal, OK,” Mannan said. “If you can’t afford a meal, come in and have a free meal. Enjoy the same atmosphere that everybody who is paying is enjoying.”
“That question, I ask God every day,” Kazi Mannan told WJLA. “How do I keep my business open, growing and making profit?”
But his free-meal policy has been in effect for five years, and they’re still going strong. He estimated that in 2016 they gave away 6,000 meals, and in 2018 that jumped to 16,000. They have regular attendees and know their orders by now.
“We have so many that are like a regular guest. We know them and what they want to eat. Some have teeth problems so we give them boneless chicken, tender ones,” Mannan said.
“For some, the alcohol and the drugs, a lot of people have teeth problems.”
He feels a kinship with those poor souls who trudge through his door, weary and worn, with no money to their name because he was once in their shoes.
“Once upon a time, I was in a similar situation where I didn’t have enough money to eat. You pass by a restaurant but never able to go in. When you don’t have money, nobody is going to let you in.”
“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,” he said. “I tell them look at my life and look at my restaurant — does this look dirty to you?”
Manna said he’s not looking for handouts, but if you want to help, stop by and purchase a meal. It’s regular, paying customers who make his act of kindness possible.
“I don’t want any donation but if you’re coming in to eat, that’s your support of helping a community restaurant that is offering kindness and love others,” Mannan said. “I’m trying to worship our Creator through food.”
“I’m the little guy on this block,” he added. “And, I love it. Because I want to say, ‘Hey listen, corporate people and people in politics! Listen to me!’ I want to show them what love can do, and I want to spread a wave of love that touches the lives of millions.”
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