For Mr. Mannan, an immigrant who arrived penniless from Pakistan in 1996, that unorthodox business model was grounded in his reading of the Koran, which implores believers to feed the needy with no expectation of thanks or recompense. It worked well for years — he says he doled out roughly 16,000 free meals last year, in addition to serving his paying customers — until the coronavirus hit. And then it didn’t.
After four months of shutdown at the outset of the pandemic, Mr. Mannan reopened in July. But the daily lunch crowd was gone, sales sank by more than 80 percent, and he had to let go all but two of his 15 employees. He couldn’t pay his rent or suppliers, let alone, he quickly realized, provide free meals to the homeless.
Facing permanent closure, Mr. Mannan was reluctant when a friend suggested he turn for help to GoFundMe, the online crowdfunding platform. “In my 50 years I never asked a penny from anyone,” he told us. “I’m a proud person who only wants to give. . . . It was sort of embarrassing.”
But he was persuaded, posted his appeal Nov. 11 — and, with the help of some admiring local news coverage and influential Twitter blasts from friends, raised $100,000 in 24 hours. Ten days later he’d notched roughly $300,000, twice his original goal, from 6,500 donors, and was “speechless and overwhelmed,” he wrote on GoFundMe. In addition to resuming meals from his restaurant for the homeless, in the coming weeks, he plans to establish a nonprofit foundation to help restaurants elsewhere emulate his example.
A U.S. citizen since 2004, Mr. Mannan says Thanksgiving has long been among his favorite holidays — a time for sharing and compassion. “I want to have Thanksgiving every day in my restaurant — Why have it just yearly?” he said. “It’s a time to think about the less fortunate, because you cannot give thanks to God if you’re just filling up your own belly.”
So many struggling restaurateurs and other merchants are deserving but unlikely to find the help they need in a timely way as America suffers in the pandemic’s tightening grip. Philanthropy, no matter how heartwarming, can’t make up for Congress’s inexcusable failure to extend the assistance it approved in March for what has turned out to be too short a time. But Mr. Mannan’s story struck a chord with the public, and rightly so; he has earned a reprieve and a chance to continue helping others. That’s something to give thanks for.