Nameer Salman’s restaurant had about a dozen large groups already booked for iftar dinners before the coronavirus lockdowns and closures hit.
The Palestinian-American co-owner of Jasmine Cafe in Richardson, Texas, did everything in his power to keep his workers – “who are like our family,” he said – employed throughout the lockdown in the US state, even allowing his employees to take home needed food items to help their families out.
But with the business largely closed for the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, and at reduced capacity for the remainder as the state reopened, Salman knew the month would be hard.
“Usually Ramadan is the best month for us during the whole year,” Salman said, adding that the cafe usually serves 400 to 500 people a day during the holy month.
“It’s [usually] really, really busy,” he told Al Jazeera over the phone.
When it became clear the large iftar dinners could not be held at the cafe, a patron – and Salman’s best friend, who had booked an iftar dinner for more than 100 people – approached Salman with a question: Could the cafe still make the food and donate it to families in need instead?
Salman did not quite know how initially, but he knew the idea could work.
With the help of a couple of trusted-community members, local mosques, and eventually Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) relief, Salman circulated a flyer where individuals in need could contact the restaurant for free meals.
“What got my attention,” he said, was the number of people who called saying they were in need of a meal – even before Ramadan began.
Restaurants, like Salman’s, and food trucks across the United States have started initiatives to donate food this Ramadan, practicing the act of charity, but also helping keep their own workers afloat. In New York City, several Islamic organisations and businesses teamed up to feed the homeless during the month. Muslim restaurant owners in Connecticut have reportedly been delivering meals and masks to a local hospital.
Other Muslim communities, including in the Dallas area, which includes Richardson, have purchased meals from local restaurants to donate to help the financially hurt businesses and those in need.