Malik and Jamila Malikzada know hardship.
So when they’re able to offer anyone going through a difficult time a free meal at their Coquitlam restaurant, Jamila’s Kitchen and Grill, they’re not sacrificing the day’s receipts in the cash register till, they’re humbled to be able to help, Malik said.
The Malikzadas are refugees, torn from the life they knew growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan by that country’s civil war. With little opportunity amidst the strife and the country’s education system torn asunder, they embarked in 1995 for an unknown future in Pakistan with only the clothes they wore.
“When a hard situation arises, you take the risk,” Malik said.
In their six years in Pakistan, the Malikzadas worked in a hospital — Malik doing maintenance, Jamila in the kitchen. But when an occasion arose in 2000 to move to Canada, where a robust community of Afghan expats was willing to help them start anew again, they seized it.
For 16 years, the Malikzadas did whatever it took to build a life in their adopted country and raise their three children — the eldest born in Pakistan, the latter two in Canada. Malik worked a variety of jobs, from McDonalds to a bakery to warehousing to establishing his own import/export business.
But it was always Jamila’s dream to cook food in her own restaurant. Three years ago, they took the plunge.
“[Jamila] supported me all these years, it’s time for me to support her passion,” Malik said.
Since opening their little restaurant in a retail strip on the north side Barnet Highway, between a Burger King and a Brazilian steakhouse, the Malikzadas put their offering to help anyone in need on the sandwich board right outside the front door. If a patron indicates they’re hungry but can’t pay, their bill is discreetly set aside.
It’s all about compassion and community, Malik said.
“One of the basic duties of every human being is to help each other,” he said. “This is what we need as a community to support each other.”
Isa Bailey, a newly-minted customer from Port Coquitlam who dropped by Jamila’s Thursday for the first time to check out its menu of Afghan, Indian and Greek dishes — as well as pizza — said when she saw a photo of the restaurant’s sandwich board on social media, she took it as a clarion call and shared it with several local Facebook groups.
“It’s a challenge to other businesses to see what they’re doing to support the community, not just during the holidays,” she said, as she waited for her samosas.
Malik said the extra attention has brought new customers, some of whom are leaving generous tips to support their effort. More importantly, it has energized his faith that they’re on the right path.
“We are all in this world together,” he said. “It fills us with confidence to move forward with life.”