How does a restaurant keep its doors open while serving free meals to the poor and homeless day in and day out?
It’s a question Kazi Mannan, owner of Sakina Halal Grill, asks himself every single day. “That question, I ask God every day. How do I keep my business open, growing and making profit?”
Sakina Halal Grill looks like your typical high-end restaurant located just blocks from the White House. During the lunchtime rush hour, many customers flock to the grill for the all you can eat buffet of authentic Pakistani Indian food.
However, it’s anything but just another restaurant.
Beyond the delicious flavors you find, the warm Chai Latte or fresh lemon water, you would never know that homeless people are walking in and out to experience the same thing paying customers are.
“If someone says I need a free meal, OK,” Mannan said. He doesn’t ask questions and never judges anybody. His policy has remained the same for the last five years. If you’re hungry, poor or homeless, you eat for free. In 2018, he estimates they served over 16,000 free meals.
“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,” Mannan said.
By now, Mannan and his employees know most of D.C’s homeless community and their order by heart. “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.”
Mannan is an immigrant from a small village in Pakistan. When he arrived to the United States in 1996, he had less than $5 in his pocket. “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,” he said.
After he opened his restaurant in 2013, he decided homeless people eat for free.
During the interview, several homeless people walked including one who Mannan says has been coming twice a day for the last four years.
“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,” Mannan said. “I tell them look at my life and look at my restaurant – does this look dirty to you?”
No, not at all. Mannan is a person whose kind heart and good energy vibrates throughout the room. His restaurant is the same. Every inch of decor including the wall paper was imported from Pakistan. It’s far from a dirty restaurant.
“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.”