Mohammed Hussain remembers what it feels like to be hungry and living below the poverty line.
When food was hard to come by 20 years ago in Mumbai, he used to go to a restaurant that offered a meal for three Indian rupees (less than QR1).
Hoping to replicate this type of offering to those struggling in Qatar, he and his friend Javahar Abdul Samad have opened a new eatery in the alleys of Doha’s Wholesale Market.
The six-month-old Sharwa Restaurant stands out from the surrounding shops and eateries because it gives those in need a chance to eat for free.
“We want to fill their hearts and their stomachs,” Hussain said of Qatar’s poor.
Speaking to Doha News this week, Hussain added that since he and Abdul Samad cannot give money to everybody who needs it, they wanted to give food.
Though Sharwa serves Indian cuisine, various nationalities visit the restaurant.
About two to three people are served food for free on a daily basis, with the number rising to four or five on the weekends, Hussain said.
To ensure the privacy of each customer, the restaurant does not bill visitors while they are seated.
This way, Hussain said, those that want to eat for free can approach the cashier’s counter – just like everybody else – and privately mention that they cannot pay for their meal.
“It’s like a secret,” he said.
This saves many from the embarrassment they may feel for not being able to afford a meal, Hussain added.
However, there are people who do try to take advantage of the system, Abdul Samad admitted, though they are few and far between.
In most cases, people are honest, Hussain said, giving the example of a regular customer who used to eat for free but came across some money.
“That day, he came in and told us that he will pay for the food he has today,” Hussain recalled, saying that experience has shown him that people want to be able to pay for the food they eat and are generally honest in this regard.
The owners said that offering the food for free does not affect the restaurant on a financial level. Keeping its recent start in mind, the restaurant has already broken even with its costs.
Sharwa Restaurant is not the first to undertake such charitable efforts.
Last year, Zaiqa restaurant in the Industrial Area began a similar offer with great success when the owners, Shadab Ahmed Khan and Nishad Ahmed Khan came across a customer who was unable to pay his bill.
And in 2014, a Qatari family began stocking an outdoor refrigerator with food and drinks for anyone to take. Another Qatari family has been offering fresh homemade laban to workers for years.
In addition to not charging some people for meals, Hussain and Abdul Samad said they hope to get official permission to give out leftover food at night to labor camps.
“We forget how much food goes to waste in restaurants,” Hussain said. “We might as well give it to the poor for free than throw it away.”
Sharwa restaurant also offers free food delivery to nearby places, a service the owners hope to expand with the help of volunteers.
“We try to deliver ourselves when we can, but we both have our own businesses,” Abdul Samad said. Both he and Hussain run real estate agencies in Qatar.
Hussain called on social workers across Qatar to help them deliver the food to those in need.
“We are ready to prepare whatever amount they ask for,” Hussain said, adding delivery is the only issue.
Not a charity
Although customers have tried to give Sharwa money to help them feed those who cannot afford it, the restaurant owners usually adamantly refuse the offer.
They argue that opening the restaurant was a means for them to give back to the community. “We wanted to do this with our money,” Abdul Samad said.
Hussain encouraged those who want to contribute to give their money to other charitable causes.
But while Hussain is steadfast about not accepting a single riyal, Abdul Samad said that they have to respect other people’s wish to be a part of this and have, in the past, accepted money from those who really insist.
Hussain and Abdul Samad have already made plans to buy a restaurant in Asian Town to expand their business. They believe that moving to the area will allow them to be able to give free food to more people in need.
Hussain added that he hopes that, after retirement, he can implement a model similar to Sharwa restaurant back home in India.
“Some people may think this isn’t good for a business, but it gives me personal satisfaction so we will keep doing it, inshAllah (God-willing),” he said.