D.C. Restaurant Owner Famed for Feeding Homeless Faced Losing Business — Until Donations Poured In

Inspired by his own struggles, Kazi Mannan spent years giving out free meals at his restaurant, Sakina Halal Grill. Then the pandemic hit.

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Kazi Mannan (center), the owner of Sakina Halal Grill in D.C. Photo: gofundme

A Washington D.C. restaurant owner who went out of his way to feed people in need has received an outpouring of support after suffering his own financial hardships amid the coronavirus pandemic.

For years, Sakina Halal Grill owner Kazi Mannan was known in his community for offering free meals to the hungry, poor or homeless, according to ABC affiliate WJLA.

Located just a few blocks from the White House, Mannan's restaurant had a no-questions-asked policy and provided food to any person who came in and said they were hungry. Without spending a dime, they too could enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet of authentic Pakistani Indian food with dignity.

It is estimated that Mannan and his staff served over 16,000 free meals in 2018 alone, the outlet reported. By 2020, though, Mannan was the one in need: his business was forced to close its doors for four months and struggled to survive as the pandemic threw the economy into a tailspin.

In a last-ditch effort, the restaurant owner turned to WJLA on Friday and set up a GoFundMe page, in hopes people would hear about his struggles and purchase a meal or donate to help keep his business alive.

Within 24 hours of his plea for help, Mannan managed to raise $100,000 on the GoFundMe, according to WJLA. And as of Thursday, his GoFundMe had brought in over $261,000.

"A few days ago you did a story on me and how I am struggling, I had tears of fear," Mannan told WJLA on Monday. "I have today, tears of joy!"

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Kazi Mannan, the owner of Sakina Halal Grill, cleaning up his restaurant. gofundme

According to the outlet, Mannan's desire to feed those in need came from his own experiences after immigrating to the United States from a small village in Pakistan in 1996, with just $5 in his pocket.

"Once upon a time, I was in a similar situation where I didn't have enough money to eat," he explained to WJLA in February 2019. "You pass by a restaurant but never able to go in. When you don't have money, nobody is going to let you in."

When he finally opened Sakina Halal Grill in 2013, Mannan vowed to help people who were struggling like he once was.

"People have a 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 told WJLA. "I tell them, 'Look at my life and look at my restaurant — does this look dirty to you?'"

The restaurant owner knows many of his patrons' orders by heart and tailors some meals to their specific health issues. For example, for those who have problems with their teeth, Mannan provides boneless, tender chicken, WJLA reported.

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Kazi Mannan with someone inside his restaurant. gofundme

"[He] introduced a new model of empathy and kindness in America when he opened his restaurant to every person who needs a refuge from their daily hunger," the GoFundMe page reads. "He has never differentiated between a paying or non-paying customer as he is constantly aware of his journey to success — and the difficulties along the way."

"Sakina Halal Grill has proudly served meals to the homeless independently and unsupported by any donations from patrons," the fundraiser adds. "He has always refused the offers as Sakina Halal Grill has been able to sustain this mission with its own funds and the prayers of the community."

Unfortunately, those funds were not enough to sustain his business through a global pandemic, and Mannan said he found himself going from a booming restaurant to no customers. He even had to cut the staff down from 15 to two employees.

"Business was doing very well. Before COVID-19 hit, we were feeding 70 to 80 people free meals a day," Mannan explained to WJLA in Friday's interview. "Right now we are in a bad shape and unable to pay rent. I am unable to pay my mortgage."

When he turned to the local outlet for help, Mannan said it was something he never thought he would have to consider.

"It was heartbreaking for me to ask the public to come out and support me," he told WJLA before the donations poured in, many with well wishes from people around the globe.

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The donations come weeks before Giving Tuesday, which takes place on Dec. 1 and brings people together in unity and giving.

To find and support more people and organizations who are going above and beyond to assist those in need, visit the new GoFundMe Basic Necessities Cause. PEOPLE has partnered with the fundraising platform to raise awareness and provide avenues for our readers to take action.

Though Mannan had to put a temporary halt on feeding the needy in his community, he said he plans on returning to the usual routine with the help of the GoFundMe donations.

"I promise you I won't disappoint you. We are going to do very big things," he told WJLA. "I can never imagine in my life how much you all trust me and care for me because you saw my heart that I genuinely care for others."

Those interested in donating to Mannan's GoFundMe can so do here.

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