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In Anacostia, many locals know pizzeria Mama’s Kitchen on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE as more of a second home than a restaurant: Owners Musa Ulusan and his wife Fatima Nayir know all their customers by name and are known for acts of kindness like offering free pizza to those who can’t afford a meal.
But as one of the only restaurants in the area without security cameras or bulletproof glass, Mama’s is also a frequent target for robbery. The restaurant has been robbed five times already this year. The most recent incident occurred Wednesday night while customers were still inside the store.
The next day, local activist and Peaceoholics co-founder Ron Moten created a GoFundMe page to raise money for a security camera system for the restaurant, which Ulusan and Nayir—or “Mama” and “Papa” as they’re known in their neighborhood—say they can’t afford on their own.
“I came in and saw [Nayir] almost in tears, and she explained what happened,” Moten says. “She had gotten robbed again. And this time she had gotten robbed with customers inside the store. So I was like, ‘Well, we’ve got to do something.'”
Within 24 hours, the page raised nearly double its goal of $800, with total funds coming in at $1,530 Friday from 45 donors. The extra funds will go toward replenishing the money stolen from Mama’s this year. Moten says he isn’t surprised by the surge of donations: Given Uluso and Nayir’s involvement in the community, he was sure locals would chip in.
Ulusan says the system will be installed Sunday, which he and Nayir are proclaiming “Mama’s Kitchen Day.” The couple is thrilled by the overwhelming support, posting a thank-you video on Friday.
“This is a great place to be because people really care about you,” Nayir says.
But Nayir and her husband have no plans to install bulletproof plexiglass, a safety feature that separates cashiers and kitchens from customers at most other eateries in their neighborhood. In fact, the property had the plexiglass installed when Ulusan and Nayir opened their restaurant five years ago, but the couple had it ripped out to be closer to their customers.
“I really don’t want to serve food from a jail,” Ulusan says. “I want to be with the people.”
The couple, who met as childhood friends in their home country of Turkey, moved to Anacostia from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina left them nearly bankrupt. In Anacostia, Nayir refers to customers as her family, adding that Mama’s is “more than a pizza place.”
And while they’re saddened by the frequent robberies, Nayir and Ulusan say they harbor no ill will toward the area.
“I think everybody deserves better in this neighborhood,” Nayir says. “We are struggling, but it doesn’t mean that we are not [people]… We want to just stay here forever with everybody, because we are going through the struggle, but it happens everywhere.”