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Local Muslims who observe the month-long holiday of Ramadan may encounter new places to break their nightly fasts this year thanks to a nascent nonprofit called Dine After Dark.
Founder Katherine Ashworth Brandt is asking D.C. restaurants to keep their kitchens open later to accommodate those who cannot eat before the sun sets. By joining the movement, Brandt says restaurants demonstrate inclusive business practices while also making it easier for Muslims to mark an important occasion.
“Families during Ramadan cook at home every night of the month for family and extended families,” Brandt says. “Many will rotate between homes and mosques. Having the option to dine out and having those conveniences while you’re just trying to live your life, I think a lot of people will respond to it.”
She’s targeting 75 restaurants in her first year, and is starting with restaurants in D.C. that offer halal menus because she believes they may have built-in clientele that would take advantage of extended dining hours. “Since this is our first season, I’m being careful not to overextend.” She’s also interested in involving restaurants in Maryland and Virginia.
This year Ramadan starts on May 5 and goes through June 4. For most of the holiday, Dine After Dark will request that restaurants keep their kitchens open until 10 p.m. but during the last ten days of Ramadan when the sun sets later in the evening, she will ask them to extend their cooking capabilities to 10:30 p.m.
Brandt, a full-time graduate student at George Washington University, grew up celebrating Christmas and says she used to take for granted many of the special accommodations that are made for Christians in December, from shopping malls staying open until midnight to special restaurant meals to free shipping. She calls Dine After Dark her passion project and thinks it will benefit businesses, Ramadan observers, and the community at large because it raises awareness about a major Muslim holiday.
One specific event in New York inspired Brandt to launch Dine After Dark. In 2017, Brooklyn Tech High School scheduled prom during Ramadan. The school has a significant number of Muslim students, many of whom were among the 240 people who petitioned the school asking them to change the date. They didn’t.
“It struck me as so incredibly inconsiderate,” Brandt says. “Prom would never been scheduled on a Christian or Jewish holiday in this country … I couldn’t save their prom, but I felt like I needed to do something to bring up the level of consideration in how we treat each other. We’re all better when we treat each other better.”
About 1.6 billion people observe Ramadan around the world. Pew Research Center estimates that about 3.45 million Muslims lived in the U.S. in 2017, and notes that 2 percent of the D.C. population is Muslim. Still Brandt questions whether enough people will participate in Dine After Dark to make it worthwhile for restaurants.
Ranya Ghumrawi lives in Arlington and is excited about the premise of Dine After Dark. “I think it’s an awesome idea, especially for people who just moved here and don’t have a community that they can break fast with,” she says. “People will notice how Ramadan brings people together and they’ll see another side of Islam that’s centered around giving and selflessness.” Ghumrawi fasts during Ramadan and is fortunate to have a group of friends and family that take turns hosting home-cooked feasts throughout the month. “But if restaurants were open, we would probably try it out.” Her favorite spots are Le Diplomate, Bresca, and Chaplin’s.
Ghumrawi grew up in the U.S. and went to Catholic school, where few other students observed Ramadan. She hopes that some of the participating Dine After Dark restaurants focus on healthy food, since the body goes through changes during Ramadan as a result of fasting. She’d love to see Sweetgreen participate, for example.
D.C. resident Ronny Kitmetou spent 25 years breaking fast and making memories at his grandmother’s house. “But as we’ve grown up, there are times we got bored and all we wanted to do is go out and eat or we’ll be craving something all day long from a restaurant,” he says. He and his cousins started a tradition where they go out to eat on Thursdays during Ramadan.
While he says restaurants have been understanding when they’ve asked servers to make haste bringing out the appetizers, Kitmetou feels many restaurants aren’t aware of Ramadan. “If I knew that a restaurant is accommodating this purposefully, I would be there in a heartbeat.” He understands why Brandt is targeting halal restaurants first, but hopes the initiative will target a broad range of places. “If I were to see a Le Diplomate, a French restaurant, it would be more of a wow factor.”
While Brandt hasn’t signed up any restaurants yet, she has netted a partner in Martha’s Table. The nonprofit that works to feed D.C.’s homeless and hungry will be sponsoring 50 meals per night during Ramadan. They’re shifting their distribution schedule so that the Dine After Dark meals will be distributed from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“There will be a different location each night of the week for those in need at an hour that suits the holiday fasting schedule,” Brandt says. More information will be available on the Dine After Dark website. Brandt is currently looking for interested restaurants and also encourages diners to sign up for updates through the site.
“I feel really strongly about it and that it can succeed,” Brandt says. “It could be a national brand.”
Photo by Flickr User Mark Fischer