Food & Drink | November 1, 2022 6:30 am

Here’s How a Family Indian-Pakistani Restaurant Became a Twitter Sensation

Behind the social media hype is some damn good food

Storefront of Ghareeb Nawaz
Storefront of Ghareeb Nawaz
Ghareeb Nawaz

Mohammed Bozai had no idea how popular his family’s restaurants were in Chicago until the emergence of a fan Twitter account.

The first Ghareeb Nawaz opened in 1994 on Devon Avenue. Over the next three decades, it has added three more locations across Chicagoland, with the most recent opening in Lincoln Park two weeks ago. That opening was rebranded on Twitter as the “Chicago Met Gala” — thanks to the tasty, inexpensive and large-portioned meals — and to the restaurant’s unofficial feed, @ghareebnawazCHI, which has racked up over 5000 followers since June. 

Khalil Suliman, the fan behind the account, quickly developed a following thanks to its existential theme. Sample tweets include: “enjoy ghareeb nawaz before the inevitable armageddon” or “lost all your money due to gambling on cryptocurrencies?/ should have spent your money with us instead/ eat ghareeb nawaz.”

All of this is a bit of a mystery to the restaurant’s actual owners. “I didn’t know that I had that big of a fan base,” Bozai says, noting that as he was getting the restaurant ready for the opening, people were stopping by and complimenting him on the Twitter feed.

Mohammed Bozai’s father, Bashir Bozai, opened the restaurant to provide inexpensive but good food for recent immigrants from India and Pakistan who found themselves alone in the U.S. “He wanted [to create] a Desi McDonalds,” Bozai says. “We wanted our version of that. Our highest price was about $4 for lamb biryani.” 

With inflation, Bozai has had to raise his prices to keep up, which he doesn’t like. “I always try to keep it as low as possible,” he says. It was important to his father — and now to Bozai as well — that “nobody goes hungry,” he says. Prices are reasonable (even with the recent cost increases), and the portions are not tiny. “I don’t work on the individual customer — I rather work on volume. That’s what my dad taught me,” he says.

That generosity works in other ways as well: When Bozai and his father mean no one goes hungry, they mean it. Ghareeb Nawaz gets its name from a Sufi saint known for feeding people in need. Bozai recalls doctors coming in and telling him that his father helped them when they were students. Now — 15 or 20 years later — they wanted to come pay him back for his kindness. Bozai’s father, Bashir, taught him that 10 or 15 dollars “are not gonna make you rich or poor. But they’ll make the customer happy.”

Bozai says he recently received an email from two former Roger Park residents who had moved to Florida. The writer wanted to surprise his girlfriend by making the restaurant’s spicy cauliflower dish. He asked for their recipe — which Bozai gladly shared. 

Suliman sums it up: “There’s a person who’s running a business who doesn’t care too much about profit, but still doesn’t compromise on taste.”

His deep appreciation for the restaurant comes honestly: “I ate there religiously for two years,” he says. His Ghareeb Nawaz Twitter feed started as a lark: He was on the job market and want to see if he could build a successful Twitter account. So he started tweeting, ending every message with “eat ghareeb nawaz.” People who were fond of the place started following him, not least because of its pointedly philosophical take. 

Bozai found out about the Twitter account through the grapevine after a spicy T-shirt meme for the restaurant got quite popular. Bozai told Suliman, ”I love what you do, but some of the things are pretty wild.” Suliman was willing to hand it over to Bozai or take it down. Instead, Bozai told Suliman,  “I don’t know what you’re doing. But you’re good at it.” 

They’ve seen the results, not least in the excitement around the recent Lincoln Park opening. “The response has been great,” Bozai says. “I mean, I don’t know how to thank him and he’s doing it out of fun.” Right now, the Twitter button on the Ghareeb Nawaz page takes you to Suliman’s account. 

“Lincoln Park has opened their arms and shown love like I never would have expected,” Bozai adds. “I’m so shocked.” 

All the people who’ve benefited from the restaurant’s generosity over the years probably aren’t.