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Local Hero of the Month: Restaurant owner invites DC's homeless to dine for free

6/28/2019

Note from the editor: For the month of June, MSN is honoring Kazi Mannan, a Washington, D.C. restaurant owner who feeds the homeless for free. As our Local Hero of the Month, we are holding a fundraiser for the charity of his choice. Mannan has asked that we direct donations to Akhuwat USA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides interest-free micro loans to lift people out of poverty and build thriving futures. Click here to make a small contribution that can make an enormous impact. 

© Courtesy of Kazi Mannan

Kazi Mannan remembers what it feels like to be hungry. Growing up in Pakistan as one of 12 children, he and his siblings often struggled to fill their bellies.

When he immigrated to the United States in 1992, he was surprised to see that many people in the most powerful country on Earth also didn’t have enough to eat. “I see this struggle of people looking for food through trash cans and it just took me to my own childhood memory of wishing I had a good meal,” he said.

He dreamed of opening a restaurant, and he vowed that if he did, he would try to help. Mannan is now the proud owner of Sakina Halal Grill, an elegant restaurant serving Pakistani and Indian favorites just blocks from the White House. One day after opening in 2013, he walked to a nearby park occupied by homeless people. He says he invited them to come have a free meal, and he was met with suspicious skepticism. Nevertheless, he convinced a few to join him, and they left happily surprised and well-fed.

He now estimates that he provides 16,000 free meals a year. He sees that number as a goal, not a liability, and he always meets it. He makes enough money from paying customers to support the meals he gives away. “Most restaurants just think about their profits, and they think if you let homeless people come in, it will ruin your business,” Mannan said. “I wanted to prove them wrong.”

© Courtesy of Kazi Mannan

At any given time at Sakina, people with jobs and money and nice clothes can be found dining on chicken biryani, chutney and garlic naan next to others whose lives are far less comfortable. Mannan says he has had an occasional customer complaint, or criticism that he shouldn’t be enabling people who are on drugs, but he brushes it off.  “It’s not my job to judge people who have fallen on the ground. It’s my job to lift them up.”

Indeed, his restaurant’s Yelp page is full of reviews from patrons who want to eat at Sakina and support his business simply because of his kindness and generosity. “I came here in the afternoon for a quick buffet. I was glad to see the mung dal in the menu. The food is prepared very close to homemade style. Not very spicy or overcooked,” one reviewer wrote, adding: “The owner of this restaurant welcomes homeless people and offers them free meals. Some homeless come here regularly for years and never pay a penny!! This restaurant is worth going, not just for the ethnic Pakistani food and feel of Islamic decoration but also to support persistence of kindness!”

© Courtesy of Kazi Mannan

Mannan now has his ambitions set on a national chain of restaurants that operate on this model, and has begun work establishing a nonprofit foundation to fund the project and spread his philosophy of opening your door without fear or judgement. “We all have many things to share,” he says. “Food is just one way we can feed another soul.”

More MSN Local Heroes: 

Bringing Peace to Children With Cancer, One Fish at a Time

Veteran walking coast to coast to help other vets is named MSN Causes Local Hero of the Month

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