When first-time restaurant owners Shadab Ahmed Khan and his brother Nishad Ahmed Khan put up a sign outside their restaurant offering penniless workers free food, they never expected to become mini-celebrities.
The two owners of Zaiqa, an Indian restaurant in the Industrial Area that opened nine months ago, began offering free meals to workers a few weeks ago, after a customer who ate there said he didn’t have enough money to pay the bill.
Speaking to Doha News, Shadab Khan, a 46-year-old Indian expat who has been in Qatar for 13 years, explained:
“We gave him the meal free of charge. My brother then realized that there are probably more people who are in the same situation – people who don’t have money but are too shy to admit it, and are hungry. So we decided to do this.”
So far, the restaurant, which is open 24/7 and is located on Kassarat Street between Streets 22 and 23, has seen some 20 people – two to three a day – take up the offer. News of the policy went viral after it was featured on Qatar Living earlier this week.
The initiative is the newest in a series of charitable actions that residents have been participating in to give back to Qatar’s large low-income migrant worker population.
On Saturday, several customers who were at the restaurant praised the owners’ initiative. Speaking to Doha News, Mohammed Shahanoor, a Bangladeshi expat who works at a nearby shop, said:
“In the 13 years that I’ve been here, I’ve never seen anyone (in the Industrial Area) do this. It is very kind. Thank God we have not been in a situation like that, but I can only imagine what a relief it must be to people who don’t have money to get food for the day.
I’ve seen about three people so far, all Ethiopians, eat here for free.”
He added that many workers who live in the area struggle to afford food, because they are not paid on time. As a result, they must go to their grueling construction jobs on empty stomachs.
“They don’t have a choice. Sharing can only go so far, but everyone has to save money and sustain themselves,” he said.
How it works at Zaiqa
The brothers had initially decided to set up a refrigerator with free food outside the restaurant to save customers the embarrassment of admitting that they had no money. To better economize the initiative, they had also considered creating a set vegetarian menu.
However, those ideas were eventually shelved in favor of offering customers – regardless of their ability to pay – a more “normal” dining experience. The entire menu is now included in the free service.
“If someone comes in and says, ‘brother, I have no money,’ they are seated. Whatever they ask for – omelettes, rice, chapatti with curry, sometimes even biryani – they are given. Sometimes they come in for juices or cold drinks or water, and they’re served that too,” said Mohammed Imtiaz, one of the restaurant’s employees.
Unfortunately, Zaiqa’s Industrial Area branch is facing imminent closure because the location is facing demolition.
“We paid the capital required to secure the venue, some QR 700,000 in total, but were only given a one-year contract. There’s nothing we can do now, but concede,” Shadab Khan said, adding the eatery would be open for a few more months.
However, due to the success of the charity initiative, the owner said it will be incorporated into Zaiqa’s yet unopened branch in Umm Ghuwailina, and at two other restaurants slated to open soon.
“It’s not just because we’ve seen that more people are availing of it. As a Muslim, we have to give charity. And this is our way of giving back. A small percentage of our earnings is enough to keep this running here and at the other restaurants that we’re planning on opening, so it’s staying,” he said.