Despite having to close its doors due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a Pakistani American-founded restaurant in the Southern California city of Fullerton that opened to rave reviews intends to continue providing hot meals to the community – albeit in a limited capacity.

Khan Saab Desi Craft Kitchen, founded by chef Imran “Ali” Mookhi, located at 229 E. Commonwealth Ave. Unit A in downtown Fullerton, launched earlier this year and has quickly developed a great reputation.

In the early stages of its business, the restaurant has a 4.5 rating on nearly 70 reviews on Yelp and a 4.0 rating on dozens of reviews on Google.

“I would say the best desi restaurant in California with delicious variety of menu,” one reviewer said in a March 6 post on Yelp.

“They truly made our experience a memorable one. I highly recommend this place! Finally, an upscale style Pakistani restaurant that is modern in ambiance and presentation but authentic to the taste,” another Yelp reviewer wrote.

Unfortunately for Mookhi, the Khan Saab team and fans of the fledgling company, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the restaurant closing its doors, following an order from California Gov. Gavin Newsom for everyone in the state outside of essential workers to stay at home.

“Thank you for warmly welcoming Khan Saab into the community over the past two months. We love serving you!” the company said on its website.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of our staff & patrons so we’ve made the tough decision to close our doors until further notice at the recommendation of the governor and CDC,” it said. “We look forward to serving the community again soon. Stay safe!”

Looking to keep serving the community, the award-winning chef has opted to abide by a social-distancing measure and open his restaurant as a “Drive Up” to hand out free meals to the local community, especially those 65 and older; those unemployed as a result of coronavirus-related layoffs; and single parents during these uncertain times when food supplies are scarce. 

The free meals will be provided on a weekly basis, each Friday.

“We are piloting the program this week to determine the demand in the community and we anticipate the word spreading to more and more of our neighbors as the weeks go on,” Mookhi told India-West, noting that there is no determination how long the program would last. “One way or another, we want to support the local community as long as there is a need.”

In addition to passing out the complimentary hot meals, Khan Saab Desi Craft Kitchen’s drive-up service will hand out bags of rice and lentils.

In an effort to practice healthy social distancing, those seeking a meal

are encouraged to pull into the parking garage attached to the restaurant

and a staff member will deliver the meals and bags of rice and lentils to the

car window, according to a news release.

“We started handing out the dried rice and lentils to those in the community two weeks ago by simply hanging a sign on our door offering this, and posting on social media, and we had more than 50 families reach out to us!” Mookhi told India-West in an email, adding that he doesn’t anticipate any traffic jams in the drive-up service, though they will adjust accordingly if needed.

“That just goes to show the volume of people in our immediate community who need assistance during this challenging time,” Mookhi said.

The service will begin March 27 and will run from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., according to the release.

The first day will serve as a gauge to how to provide the community with enough meals to go around in future weeks. Those interested can just drive up, without needing to call ahead, Mookhi said.

“Two months ago, I opened Khan Saab to fulfill my lifelong dream of creating

a restaurant to serve the community. While the restaurant is closed for the time being, my calling to serve is alive and well,” Mookhi said in a statement.

“During this uncertain and challenging time for all of us, I want to do what I can to help reassure the community that they are not alone, and feel a sense of togetherness during a time of social distancing,” the chef said.

The restaurant plans to increase the number of meals served weekly to support the demand, it said.

“We just want to do what we can to help,” Mookhi told India-West when asked how they intend to sustain passing out free food over the next several weeks – or more.

“We only opened Khan Saab two months ago with the goal of becoming an integral part of the community by doing what we love – coming together around the table to eat,” he said. “The restaurant doors might be closed for the time being, but we still want to share food with our neighbors, especially now.”

Khan Saab will provide drive-up goers with a combination of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options, like our biryani which is a special on the menu, to accommodate dietary restrictions. 

“I'm sure that we will be rotating through dishes depending on what products we can order, but we do want to hold up the restaurant's integrity of serving high-quality Desi cuisine, so we will give the same care and attention to these offerings as we do in the restaurant,” the chef said.

Khan Saab Desi Craft Kitchen is a culmination of cuisines from Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan, which opened its doors in Fullerton in February 2020 and boasts a menu of 100 percent halal food including some of the highest-rated Australian Wagyu beef, along with a selection of non-alcoholic beverages inspired by the cuisine from the Desi region, according to the restaurant’s website.

At the helm of the kitchen is culinary veteran Mookhi, who has trained under numerous Michelin-starred chefs in world-class kitchens.

Alongside traditional dishes like butter chicken and pan puri, the eatery features signature recipes including pomegranate bhel puri; Tandoori Jhinga; and Sloppy Khan, which is their take on a sloppy Joe featuring Keema Pav Wagyu Beef on pav bread.

More information about the restaurant can be found by visiting www.khansaaboc.com.

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