Fifteen years ago, Rukhsana Rafiq opened her first restaurant, Maiwand, with her entrepreneurial brother-in-law in Columbia, Md. Then she opened another one with her brother Farid Mohmand in Burtonsville, Md. Today, Rafiq owns five Maiwand Kabob locations in Maryland and Mohmand owns two more, known as Maiwand Grill.
Those ranks are about to grow this week, for the first time in D.C.: Mohmand is opening a Maiwand Grill at 1764 Columbia Road NW in Adams Morgan.
Before launching restaurants, the siblings — refugees from Afghanistan — had been struggling to adjust to their new environment. Mohmand had just been fired from an electronics company, and Rafiq was working in a salon. But they had never been in the restaurant business and didn’t know what to expect. “I got lucky,” Mohmand told The Current.
Mohmand and Rafiq’s parents sponsored their adult children to come to the United States in 1989, a few years after they emigrated from Afghanistan. The family spent a few years in California before the siblings, then in their mid-20s, moved to New York City. But according to Rafiq, the hustle and bustle was too much for them, and they moved to the quieter D.C. suburbs 25 years ago — Mohmand to Woodbridge, Va.; Rafiq to Columbia, Md.
The initial idea for the restaurant was to introduce suburban Maryland to authentic Afghan foods, like the ones the Mohmands’ parents cooked for them when they were young. “McDonald’s or Subway didn’t work out for us,” Mohmand said of their early experiences adjusting to American culture.
The concept of harnessing what they knew intuitively for their business paid off, Mohmand said.
“The customers like the food, so we have to be consistent and don’t change it,” Mohmand said. “The feedback is positive. The result is good and the feedback is positive, so there’s no need to change.”
Authenticity, in the family’s eyes, means kabobs and milder spices than fans of Indian and Pakistani cooking would expect. Mohmand said he has been to a few Afghan restaurants in D.C., but none that offer quite the Maiwand flavor. The original Maiwand was the first kabob restaurant in the region, they say.
“People are not scared anymore to try our food,” Rafiq said.
D.C. boasts only a smattering of Afghan cuisine — most notably Adam Morgan’s Lapis, which earned “Bib Gourmand” distinction for good value from Michelin last fall.
The city’s first Maiwand will have the same menu as the existing Maryland spots, most of which are located in the Baltimore area. Mohmand said he decided to open in the District because of encouragement of his loyal customers. Adams Morgan is also closer to his home than any of the existing eateries.
Rafiq is now looking to franchise her business. And if Maiwand is successful in Adams Morgan — “a very vibrant neighborhood with a lot of traffic,” according to Mohmand — more nearby locations could be in the works, he said.
“This is our first restaurant in D.C.,” Mohmand said. “Let’s see what happens.”