WASHINGTON (ABC7) — On a dreary morning in Franklin Square along K Street in Northwest Washington layers of donated clothes keep the homeless warm. Finding shelter and food defines their day. Dawud Proctor knows the struggle of homelessness all too well.
“Yeah it’s tough. I see people laugh at the homeless and might look down on them but if you really look at it a lot of people are just one step away from being this way,” says Proctor.
Franklin Square is one of the many places in the nation’s capital inhabited by those without a home. It sits two blocks from two very different houses: The White House to the west and Mayur Kabab House to the east. Mayur Kabab owner Kazi Mannan came in early on this particular day.
“With every dish the magic is how much you have to stir it,” says Mannan.
He and his staff are preparing a special feast for customers at his Pakistani-Indian restaurant along K Street in Northwest Washington.
Mannan says on the menu will be, “Potato and cauliflower, chicken tandoori, naan bread, chick peas and vegetable biryani.”
But these dishes are destined for an audience that’s rarely welcome in elegant eateries. You see, for the past few months Mannan has opened his restaurant to the homeless.
Mannan says, “Sometimes they come 15-20. Sometimes nobody. We are waiting God please send somebody, you know.”
For lunch on this day nearly 20 people who have no home came in from the elements to eat. And they’re treated like any other guest expect for one key difference. They eat for free.
“Yes it’s shocking to me because I didn’t think there were brothers out there who would help support the needs of the homeless,” says Proctor.
Darren Staton, who has been homeless for a couple years, says this meal and Mannan’s gesture is a blessing from God.
“So we appreciate this guy bringing this food down here for us to eat. Sometimes on Sundays it is slow. Sometimes we got to go around and beg or we get a cup and try to make money to try to find a way to eat and survive out here,” says Staton.
Mannan responds by telling everyone in the restaurant, “You guys are the most important guests for me.”
Mannan’s boundless optimism and love of food wasn’t cultivated at a high-profile culinary institute. His desire to provide stems from a painful uncertainty that defined his childhood. Kazi Mannan grew up on a farm in a small village in Pakistan one of 10 children.
Mannan says,”We didn’t have any electricity. We didn’t have any running water. The school, believe it or not, was under the tree. My elementary tree we didn’t have a building. I study under the tree. When the really hard rain starts my teacher says go home because there is no building.”
To support his family he went to work at 12 selling ice and vegetables. The best school was four miles away. So that’s how far he walked to get a formal education. In 1996, at the age of 25, Mannan says his visa was approved so he borrowed money for a plane ticket to America. He started as a cashier, earning $3 an hour, at a gas station in one of the District’s toughest neighborhoods.
“When I arrive in America I had just $3, just $3 and I started my life with basically nothing,” says Mannan.
Hard work would alter the arc of his life. He says he worked double shifts, then multiple jobs. He saved up enough money to buy one limousine. The idea that a kid who came from nothing could one day drive the rich and powerful around in luxury inspired him even more. He says one limo turned into a fleet of vehicles. His business flourished enough that some twenty years later he opened his own restaurant.
Mannan says,”That’s called American dream. This is the only country where you say American dream.”
When we told some of his homeless patrons about Mannan’s back story they were touched.
“Wow! For real? So he kinda understands. That’s a good thing. It makes sense now. Makes a lot of sense. Wow!,” says Darren Staton.
But to fully understand Kazi Mannan you should know one more thing.
“I love to prepare this food for the homeless shelter,” says Mannan.
Every Sunday Mannan makes extra food and delivers it himself to the Georgetown Ministry Center where he serves lunch to dozens of homeless men and women. He connected a few months ago on social media with volunteers who spend Sundays dishing out hot meals to the less fortunate like Ron Verquer.
“And they make you feel like you are valued,” says Verquer.
Kazi Mannan says a skeptic recently told him if he gives away his food he’ll surely go out of business in no time. Mannan believes the more he gives away the more God will bless him.
Mannan says, “I think this is all from God because my mission is from God.”
And he says he’ll never forget what his mother told him about holding tightly to his faith in the face of despair. She said if you share even when you don’t have God will take you from darkness to light.
Before Dawud Proctor returned to his spot in Franklin Square he told us, “That’s the whole answer to life to be blessed by God and God will help you and I know he will. You just got to make the first step. He won’t do everything for you.”
Kazi Mannan tells us he hopes to one day return to Pakistan and open up empowerment centers for women and schools for children.