Published October 16, 2012
Volume 20, Number 10

Anarkalee Restaurant’s Moina Shaiq: Humanitarian and Community Activist 

By Nicole Zaro Stahl

Moina Shaiq describes herself as a people person and a community activist. Humanitarian is another apt term. Testimony of her philanthropy is abundant, from the Tenth Senate District Woman of the Year award she received in 2008 from State Senator Ellen Corbett for her service to the Muslim community to the 300 meals she donates every month to Open Heart Kitchen.

The latter undertaking springs from her current role as owner and manager of Anarkalee Restaurant at 4515 Rosewood Drive. The restaurant opened in June 2010, when Shaiq and her husband decided to take advantage of an available space in the Metro 580 shopping center, near the Kohl’s store, and bring their native Pakistani cuisine to Pleasanton. The couple also owns an Indian-Pakastani restaurant, Shalimar, in Sunnyvale. Although not involved in its hands-on operation, Shaiq was comfortable in the environment and ready to expand their business ventures.

Shaiq was equally eager to tap her people skills. “The restaurant allows me to meet new people. I go to every table to talk to customers. I strive to maintain long-term satisfying relationships, and I love it when they come back again and again. I’ve made a lot of friends that way. It's a very exciting part of starting this place.”

Shaiq was born in Karachi, the youngest of three children. Her father, originally from India, as is her mother, worked for the state bank, the equivalent to the Treasury Department in the U.S. “He was always helping people. For example, he would use his network to help people find jobs. My nature of giving came from him.” She attended an English-language school and then got a Bachelor's degree in psychology and economics.

Marriage brought her to the U.S. with her new husband, who had earned his degree in electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington. His job landed them in Dallas, her first introduction to American life. It was hot, like home in Karachi, but not terribly memorable. Then they moved to Florida, where the lush natural beauty of the landscape and the proximity to water proved captivating. Not long after, they were sent to Zambia, which turned out to be another very pleasant surprise. “At first I wondered why we couldn't get sent to someplace better known, but we loved it there. The people were so nice.” The project over, they returned to Cape Canaveral for a few years until a new position took them to Silicon Valley. They settled in Fremont in 1982.

After almost a decade as a homemaker raising three children, in 1991 Shaiq joined with her husband to tap into the burgeoning PC market and formed a business selling computer hardware and software. The company assembled generic devices from standard components and became a supplier to a broad customer base, including other businesses, schools, and government agencies.

Nine years later, the PC trend had crested, and they closed the business, turning their focus elsewhere. Coincidentally, Shaiq was pregnant with her fourth child and decided to take a break from the work world to take on full-time mothering again. After two years at home, recalling her father’s compassionate nature, she started on the path to community activism.

Shaiq began giving her time to feeding the homeless, driving patients to chemotherapy treatments, and advocating for foster children and victims of domestic violence. An emerging awareness of the many underserved needs in the Muslim senior community also developed. Many elders were homebound, lacked transportation, were challenged by language or finances, and had no idea what kinds of resources were available to help.  In November 2005 Shaiq founded the Muslim Support Network (MSN) to improve their health and well-being. The City of Fremont’s Human Services Director was instrumental in helping MSN establish its program of social and educational activities that would draw seniors out of their isolation at home.

By the time she received Sen. Corbett’s Woman of the Year award, Shaiq held several positions in charitable local organizations: chair of the Human Relations Commission for the City of Fremont; vice president, Tri City Homeless Coalition; board member, Washington Hospital Foundation; and member, the Fremont Alliance for a Hate Free Community. Since then, she has added training in senior peer counseling and self-management of chronic disease as areas of interest.

When Anarkalee was launched, Shaiq brought along her humanitarian ideals. At the grand opening she announced that the restaurant would be available for nonprofit meetings at no charge.  “I know how nonprofits struggle to find meeting space, so I am offering our facility when we close from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. during the week.”

Even though her time these days is limited by business obligations, Shaiq manages to find ways to reach out to the local community, for example in her Open Heart Kitchen involvement. “In this economy, the need for nutritious and delicious food has grown, and this is a practical way for me to contribute.”

At the same time, Shaiq is strongly committed to making Anarkalee a place that offers a warm welcome and well executed food. The restaurant’s specialty is Pakastani cuisine. 

“Pakistani and Indian food look very much alike, and the names of the dishes are similar, but the use of different spices gives it a distinctive taste,” she points out.  “And most of our food is gluten free.”

Anarkalee serves made-to-order menu items and a varied buffet for weekday lunch and Sunday brunch. Many dishes are cooked in the tandor, the charcoal-fueled vertical clay oven. Nan, or flat bread, cooks against the tandor walls.

Shaiq is insistent about maintaining the high quality of the restaurant’s food. “It takes time to prepare many of the dishes on our menu, and our customers appreciate the fact that to cook their selections properly we can’t speed up the process.”

Shaiq enjoys working with her employees as much as she does the customer contact. A psychology major in college, she learned that the best approach to leading others is by emphasizing the positives. “I’m always very appreciative of my workers. I look at their strengths and build on them. That's one way I make sure our food is always prepared to our standards.”

Shaiq’s offspring are clearly following in their mother’s activist footsteps. The oldest, a daughter, has an MSW degree and works with foster children and victims of domestic violence. Her elder son develops programs in Africa for a Los Angeles nonprofit. Her younger son, inspired by volunteer tutoring at juvenile hall while at UCLA, is going to Hastings Law School to become a public defender. “He’s telling me he's not going to be a rich lawyer. He wants to represent people in the community who don't have access to a good attorney. I love that.”

The youngest, a 15-year-old daughter, is still at home.  She, too, has been well schooled in activism, having been brought to events and meetings since the age of two.

All have obviously embraced their mother’s most important lesson. “As humans, it is very important to take care of others, whoever they may be. Anyone in need, I like to help. And,” she muses, “I would love to do more.”


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