On Washington DC’s historic U Street corridor, simply buying a brew goes a long way. The Saloon is a non-profit bar with an old-fashioned theme that donates a portion of its profits to a foundation that builds schools worldwide. Pandemic closures hindered the mission, but the place is up and running again, ready to make a difference globally.
Kamal Jahanbein opened this unique, Western-themed saloon in 2000 after years of working in the restaurant industry. He also helped to construct 500 homes with Habitat for Humanity. He merged his expertise in both areas and established The Kamal Foundation in 2007.
“I had the image of having a place that had a reputation for selling good beers and building good schools,” Jahanbein says. The Kamal Foundation builds homes, clinics and more around the world. It is currently working on its 24th school in Burkina Faso, a West African country. Jahanbein says the first school his foundation built was in Abadan, Iran, where there was significant damage in the city after the Iran-Iraq war.
He is careful not to call his foundation a charity, saying he does not pity the people he builds the schools for. Instead, he considers it a three-way partnership between him, the community and local government.
Inside the Saloon, names are painted on the brick walls of people who have donated and requested schools.
To request a school or clinic, patrons pay $150 for a brick with their name painted and then talk with Jahanbein about why they want it. Clinics are the same price and process.
Community members then approach their government with these plans. Governments must agree to provide teachers and furniture once the school is built.
Jahanbein says prior to starting a project, the people in the community benefiting from his foundation’s work must agree to two stipulations. They must save one day’s worth of income per month for six months to donate it to the project and work one day per week on the construction of the school.
“Our rule is very simple,” said Jahanbein. “If you don’t have the money, you have to give me your muscle. This lets us know who is serious about the project and not just looking for handouts.”
Keenan Mitchell, a bartender who has worked at The Saloon for 11 years, says he is glad to work at a place that does great things for people around the world.
“This is something nobody does in this country as far as I know,” said Mitchell. “To be a part of that is great; the impact that we see on these kids is awesome.”
The pandemic greatly impacted the bar and the foundation. They were closed for 14 months and due to travel restrictions, they were unable to travel to build schools. Now, things are picking up again and he hopes to start operations again in March. The next stop after Burkina Faso is Haiti.
“We want to be able to build one or two schools every year,” said Jahanbein. “We want people to know if they buy a beer here, they are making a difference somewhere.”