From humble beginnings as a New York hot dog cart to a world-renowned international brand, The Halal Guys story is a quintessential American dream.
From NYC the brand has cut a swathe through the US and the Far East. Now the excitement is set to hit the UK as it makes its eagerly awaited European debut.
March 2019 will see The Halal Guys land in the West End’s Leicester Square – brought to our shores by hospitality brand ITICO F+B – followed by two more locations in London in 2019.
Today The Halal Guys is part of American culture – referenced in everything from Cardi B lyrics to Hasan Minhaj’s stand-up routine – but the legend began in 1990, years before food trucks became a common fixture on the streets of New York. Three Egyptian immigrants, Mohammed Abouelenein, Ahmed Elsaka and Abdelbaset Elsayed, arrived in the city in search of a better life. Having held down a number of odd jobs, they opened a hot dog cart on the corner of 53rd Street and 6th Avenue. They soon realised there was huge demand from Muslim cab drivers looking for fast, authentic halal food, so much so that they decided to convert their stand into a halal food cart.
Since opening, the original cart has become a true New York icon, attracting both locals and tourists, often waiting in lines 50 people deep.
What’s more during this time it has only been closed for 20 days – and that’s only when they shut the streets! Says co-founder Mohammed Abouelenein, “We worked all day. We never stopped. Even in disaster or severe weather.” During Hurricane Sandy, The Halal Guys was the first to return to the city streets. In the days immediately following the storm, all emergency workers/first responders ate there for free.
So, what is it about The Halal Guys that causes queues so long that when the first Houston branch opened, the police had to come and direct traffic?
As well as being affordable and served in generous proportions, the menu is simple. Diners can choose between a platter or sandwich. The platters have rice, pita, lettuce and tomatoes with a choice of chicken, beef, combo or vegan-friendly falafel, while the sandwiches are the same except the ingredients are all wrapped in a pita sandwich.
And then of course there are the two legendary sauces, whose recipes remain almost as well-protected as Coca-Cola’s. “It’s the white sauce, always the white sauce, that draws everybody in, from uniformed cops to dainty girls whose palates otherwise incline to macarons,” raved the New York Times. Braver mortals however will opt for the hot sauce with a Scoville rating of 130,000. That’s over twice as hot as a tabasco or cayenne chilli!
So ground-breaking was this combination of traditional halal ingredients and spices and “Americanised” presentation that it created a genre of its own: American Halal Street Food. 85% of The Halal Guys’ customers are non-Muslim; as Mohammed Abouelenein puts it so succinctly, “Good food overcomes any differences between people.”
After almost a quarter of a century in business – during which time it opened four additional carts followed by its first brick-and-mortar site on Manhattan’s 14th Street – The Halal Guys was ready to become an international brand. Franchising began in 2015 in the Philippines and very quickly over the next three years over 450 sites were sold in six countries, making it one of the fastest growing chains in the world.
Now The Halal Guys empire is on a serious mission to take over the UK. Get ready London, you’re first…