January 24, 2021

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Restaurant near White House flooded with donations to keep feeding homeless

In the heart of Washington’s big-money lobbying and law firm district, restaurateur Kazi Mannan has been serving up kebabs and curries to the rich and the poor for nearly a decade.



a man standing in front of a window: Restaurateur Kazi Mannan, left, in an undated handout photo, has been quietly feeding homeless patrons free of charge alongside paying customers at his Washington, D.C., Sakina Halal Grill.


© Courtesy Kazi Mannan
Restaurateur Kazi Mannan, left, in an undated handout photo, has been quietly feeding homeless patrons free of charge alongside paying customers at his Washington, D.C., Sakina Halal Grill.

“These are my mom’s recipes that we use because we named it after her and we want to honor her with her recipes, the way she used to cook,” said Mannan, a first-generation Pakistani immigrant who owns Sakina Halal Grill, just a few blocks from the White House.

Since he opened his restaurant in 2013, Mannan has been quietly seating and feeding thousands of homeless and hungry just like paying customers, inviting them in for a meal without fanfare or attention, no questions asked.



a man sitting at a table in a restaurant: Kazi Mannan, owner of Sakina Halal Grill in Washington, D.C., wipes down a table on June 08, 2017.


© The Washington Post via Getty Images, FILE
Kazi Mannan, owner of Sakina Halal Grill in Washington, D.C., wipes down a table on June 08, 2017.

“Don’t worry about it. Just have a seat. Enjoy longer,” he said of his message. “The idea to feed from a restaurant doesn’t exist because people are scared. Letting poor people come in — (some say), ‘it will ruin your business.’ But it’s the opposite for me.”

MORE: Restaurants unsure if they’ll last the winter with COVID-19 relief talks stalled

In over seven years of serving the community, Mannan says he never had to call the police for help.

“Those people who always have trouble outside, but coming here … they see the love and kindness we share,” he said.



a person cooking in a kitchen preparing food: Kazi Mannan, owner of Sakina Halal Grill in Washington, D.C., is pictured in the kitchen on June 08, 2017.


© The Washington Post via Getty Images, FILE
Kazi Mannan, owner of Sakina Halal Grill in Washington, D.C., is pictured in the kitchen on June 08, 2017.

There’s a strict, no-judgement policy in force, he tells his staff.

When COVID-19 hit the restaurant industry hard this spring, the steep decline in business nearly made Kazi go hungry too. As profits evaporated, he laid off a dozen from his staff, cut the free meals and contemplated having to close for good.

MORE: Nonprofits struggle with challenges of rising hunger, COVID-19 restrictions during holidays

Then, a global community rallied to the rescue, inspired by his story, which was first shared widely by ABC affiliate WJLA.



a person cooking in a kitchen preparing food: Sakina Halal Grill in Washington, D.C., prepares marinated kebabs and spicy curries from traditional Pakistani-Indian recipes from the family of owner Kazi Mannan.


© ABC News
Sakina Halal Grill in Washington, D.C., prepares marinated kebabs and spicy curries from traditional Pakistani-Indian recipes from the family of owner Kazi Mannan.

More than 6,500 donors — many not known personally to Mannan — have chipped in a quarter million dollars to a GoFundMe campaign he started this month to try to stay afloat. The unexpected outpouring has humbled and empowered him to give even more.

“This is a symbol of love and people didn’t want this symbol to go away in ashes because (if) the restaurant is gone, my story ends,” he said.



a man standing in front of a cake: Restaurateur Kazi Mannan, left, in an undated handout photo, has been quietly feeding homeless patrons free of charge alongside paying customers at his Washington, D.C., Sakina Halal Grill.


© Courtesy Kazi Mannan
Restaurateur Kazi Mannan, left, in an undated handout photo, has been quietly feeding homeless patrons free of charge alongside paying customers at his Washington, D.C., Sakina Halal Grill.

His story as a small business owner in America began with a simple lesson from his late mother, Sakina, the restaurant namesake, who modeled hospitality during his childhood in a rural Pakistani village.

“She will always prepare some meals and she will always prepare extra to give it to the neighbor, go give it to this person or give to that person,” Mannan said.



a man in a blue shirt: Kazi Mannan, owner of Sakina Halal Grill in Washington, D.C., is pictured in the kitchen on June 08, 2017.


© ABC News
Kazi Mannan, owner of Sakina Halal Grill in Washington, D.C., is pictured in the kitchen on June 08, 2017.

Her outreach to complete strangers helped open his eyes to the homeless Americans he says many pass blindly on the streets of D.C. — more than 6,300 now homeless in the nation’s capitol this year, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

They are among the more than half a million now homeless nationwide, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a number that has spiked during the pandemic and added to the ranks of the hungry.

MORE: America’s growing hunger crisis

“Some people have mental issues, health issues. We were patient with them and they were patient with us. So it was a relationship,” Mannan said. “As a child, you don’t understand giving. But (Sakina) knew that giving brings joy to her. And that’s what I feel every single day.”



a store front at day: Since 2013, Sakina Halal Grill in Washington, D.C., has been serving up homemade Pakistani-Indian food just blocks from the White House.


© ABC News
Since 2013, Sakina Halal Grill in Washington, D.C., has been serving up homemade Pakistani-Indian food just blocks from the White House.

As business starts to slowly bounce back, Mannan is celebrating the return of more customers, especially the ones who need help the most.

“Pure hearts doing kind things will always touch other people’s hearts,” Mannan says of his mantra.

It’s a circle of generosity, propelled by faith in kindness, as Mannan hopes others this Thanksgiving season choose to show gratitude — by giving.

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