The desi cuisine restaurant attempting to revolutionise the food options available in Islamabad stands as an iconically colourful multi-storey building in the F7 Markaz. It is an unusual sight in the bureaucratic capital.
Masood told Images that the project was the result of a “midlife crisis”. Even after all that he’s done, he said, there is more he can and wants to do.
“At my age, you don’t qualify as a young man and neither as an old one — you find yourself stuck somewhere in the middle. I still feel young and my friends and I have kept ourselves fit, perhaps credited to our diets back in the day,” he said.
Speaking on what made him venture out of the entertainment and art business and into hospitality, he said, “During my last three to four years in Karachi, I learnt that work in the media industry was slow. Most scripts I would receive wouldn’t inspire me and only once in a while would I get something worth doing. At this age in Pakistan, they don’t really consider you for a hero’s role, and I found myself just waiting for the right call. I felt suffocated.”
Masood revealed that he felt motivated by the government’s efforts to promote tourism and the fact that lack of international travel meant tourists rushing to the Pakistani north. His first idea was to set up something in Nathia Gali, a popular spot for local and international tourists. He’s still working on the project there but it has its own unique challenges and struggles.
“I travelled to Islamabad for a day at the request of my business partner and that’s where I saw this building. It was a plain and simple Islamabad-style building. I thought I’d do something excited with it, and then I started Khaaba,” he said.
“I didn’t know what sort of a building I’d create. I like playing with colours and lights, I’ve been doing it for years, so I made this colourful building. It’s been very successful, and I’m so grateful to God,” he said.
He said he designed the place himself. “My architect friend was confused, ‘Who paints a building like this?’ she would ask. I told her to just trust me, and bill me.”
Now that his vague idea for a restaurant has become an eye-catching fan favourite, Masood believes it’s the result of his mother’s well wishes.
“My mother died last year. I told her several time that I’d like to open a restaurant, and she would say let’s do it in Islamabad. I had brought her to Karachi with me, and she always missed Islamabad,” he reminisced.
“Now her grave is in Karachi and the very next year, God sent me to Islamabad for this.”
Living and working alone, he said, has been tough. Especially because he has spent his life living with his family where decisions and troubles are dealt with communally. Even from afar though, Masood said his family has been a great help for him.
Masood doesn’t wish to stop just here. He wants to develop the single-location restaurant into a chain and take it to other cities of the country and maybe even beyond.