By Nabila Pathan | The Al Arabiya
What started in the 1990s as the original “The Halal Guys” food cart has become a word-of-mouth success story on the streets of New York and looks set to create a Middle Eastern street food phenomenon in national and international markets within the next five years.
Scenes of block long queues stretching out from the food carts have become iconic on the corner of 53rd Street and 6th Avenue, where the original Halal Guys food cart began. Showcasing the recognizable yellow logo with the wording “Halal Guys,” matching the color of New York taxi cabs, the cart is a regular haunt for New Yorkers and a must for tourists. The on-the-go gyro and chicken dishes served with orange rice, topped with the famous white sauce is a staple street cuisine that New Yorkers have taken to over the past decade.
It is not uncommon for customers to queue for over an hour in order to savor the platter’s delights.
“It’s our first trip to New York and Halal Guys was on the top of our to-do list. We are braving the harsh bitter cold of winter here in New York, not in the least bit put off by the long queue. It’s all part of the experience. There’s a real spirit of anticipation… about what treats lie ahead. It will all be worth it soon, explains Laurie Pattison who was visiting New York as a tourist at the time.
With a simple menu and many left wondering what the key ingredients are for the popular white sauce, the food cart remains a regular haunt for office workers, taxi drivers and tourists. As the food carts are open till 4 am in the morning, clubs goers are also kept satisfied.
The story of Halal guys began more than a decade ago. Founded by three Egyptian men – Mohamed Abouelenein, Ahmed Elsaka and Abdelbaset Elsayed – they decided to swap selling hot dogs from their Midtown cart to serving halal food to Muslim cabdrivers.
“We figured out that most of the cabdrivers are Egyptian, Pakistani… they suffered too much from no halal [food]” explains Abouelenein in a New York Times interview.
The Halal Guys is now on the cusp of becoming a fast-food chain after signing a deal with Fransmart, the restaurant franchise consulting firm that has been renowned for making food chains like Five Guys Burgers, Fries and Qdoba success stories.
The Halal Guys first shop opened on 14th Street last year, providing early insight into what a franchise might look like. Whilst the menu resembles the one from food cart, with the signature meat and rice platter dish, the addition of Kofta and deserts like basbousa have provided Halal Guys a chance to expand the culinary experience of Middle East inspired food.
Now the owners of the Halal Guys business are working on a five year business plan, according to their official website, which will see the brand expand to over one hundred locations in the U.S. as well as in South East Asia with talks of expansion into the Philippines and South Korea.
With 25 years of selling on the streets of Manhattan, the Halal Guys has steadily grown to become the leading and largest food cart company within the New York area and observers say it could be the first time a Middle Eastern Halal food outlet could potentially join the ranks of McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
How the street food experience transitions to an in store seated one is still being watched with keen interest. But what is clear is that the brand’s potential is being viewed as the first and largest Middle Eastern street-food concept to take the U.S. by storm, unperturbed by the connection to the Muslim culture of Halal food.