The Halal Guys
|The Halal Guys|
A line at the cart (2007)
|Current owner(s)||Mohamed Abouelenein|
|Food type||Halal, Middle Eastern cuisine|
|Street address||Corners of 53rd St and 6th Avenue (main and second locations)|
|City||Manhattan, New York City|
The Halal Guys is a halal fast casual restaurant franchise that began as a food cart on the south-east corner of 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. The franchise also has a cart on the south-west corner of the same intersection. New locations, both food cart and storefront, are being added throughout New York (including a storefront on 14th Street and Second Avenue) and around the world.
The Halal Guys was founded in 1990 by Egyptian-descendent Mohamed Abouelenein, along with compatriots Ahmed Elsaka and Abdelbaset Elsayed, as a hot dog cart located on 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue. Abouelenein, however, believed that a hot dog was not a satisfying meal, and switched to the current menu of chicken, gyro meat, rice, and pita in 1992. As a result, New York City’s Muslim cab drivers flocked to the cart for its ability to provide a quick, relatively inexpensive halal meal. As word of the cart spread via these chatty cabbies, the now-famous platter of chicken and rice was born, and popularized within the Muslim community in the city.
The cart has caused a decline in the popularity of hot dog vendors in New York City and has influenced many imitation carts. A cart called 'New York's Best Halal Food' is also located on 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue on the southwest corner. It is unknown which cart was located at the intersection first.
On October 28, 2006, a fight that started in line ended with 23-year-old Ziad Tayeh stabbing and killing 19-year-old Tyrone Gibbons. Tayeh was later found not guilty, as the jury found that he acted in self-defense. The fight began after one accused the other of cutting in line. The New York Times once reported that the owners had hired bouncers.
The Halal Guys serves "American halal" platters and sandwiches, prepared using ingredients such as chicken, gyro meat, falafel and rice. The taste has been described as entailing a complex melting pot of flavors originating from the Mediterranean and Middle East. The Halal Guys also serve a white sauce condiment which patrons cite as a favorite and has been described as "famous". A "distant cousin of tzatziki", the Halal Guys' white sauce has been the subject of multiple recreations based on ingredients on to-go packets, but to no avail. A similar condiment is found at all or most other halal carts in New York City, but the recipe likely often varies from cart to cart. The Halal Guys also prepares a red hot sauce.
- The main cart is located on 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue during weekday evenings (7pm–4am) and weekends, across from the Hilton Hotel on the southwest corner.
- A second cart is located across the street from the original cart, on the southeast corner of that intersection, and is open both during the daytime and at night.
- A third cart exists on the southwest corner of 53rd Street and 7th Avenue, and begins serving food at lunch time.
- In November 2013, the Halal Guys announced its intentions to open a restaurant located on 14th Street and 2nd Avenue, according to general manager Hesham Hegazy.
- In December 2014, the Halal Guys opened a restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue and West 95th Street.
- The Halal Guys opened their first Chicago location on August 20, 2015. The restaurant is located in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood. Four more locations are expected to open in the city.
- On October 2, 2015, the Halal Guys opened a restaurant in Costa Mesa, California, the first location on the West Coast. The business plans to expand in Southern California with 50 franchised units sold already.
- In October 2015, the Halal Guys opened up shop in Megamall Manila in the Philippines. More locations has been added since in the Philippines.
- On January 2, 2016, a second California location opened in Long Beach at 1804 Ximeno Avenue.
- In May 2016 a store opened in East Brunswick, New Jersey.
- In May 2016 a store was opened in San Jose, California.
- On August 12, 2016, a store was opened in Las Vegas, Nevada.
- On September 2, 2016, a store was opened in Springfield, Virginia.
- On September 2, 2016, a store was opened in Fairfax, Virginia.
- On September 8, 2016, customers in Montreal, Quebec, lined up at Mackay Street and de Maisonneuve Boulevard West for the grand opening of the first Canadian location. As of May 2018, the two locations closed down, with a source citing that diners preferred local favorite Boustan instead of the NYC favorite.
- On December 17, 2016, Halal Guys opened the first store in East Asia on exit 2 of Itaewon station, Seoul, South Korea.
- On January 27, 2017, a store was opened in Tempe, Arizona.
- In April 2017, a store was opened in Union, New Jersey located on Route 22.
- In April 2017, The Halal Guys opened the first store in Jakarta, Indonesia at Senayan City
- In April 2017, a store was opened in Shreveport, Louisiana.
- On May 5, 2017, a store opened in Toronto.
- On September 1, 2017, a store was opened in Orlando, Florida.
- On September 15, 2017, a store was opened in Boston Theater District.
- On September 30, 2017, a store was opened at The District (Tustin).
- On January 13, 2018, a store was opened at Puentes Hills Mall in Rowland Heights.
- In January 2018, the 2nd store in Jakarta, Indonesia opened in the Grand Indonesia mall.
- On February 16, 2018, a store was opened in Rockville, Maryland
After being approached numerous times, holding off franchising to await a company that would respect their origins and core values, the Halal Guys hired Fransmart, the franchise development company behind the success and explosive growth of Qdoba Mexican Grill and Five Guys, in June 2014. Within the first year of launching their franchise expansion campaign they closed deals for California; New Jersey; Connecticut; Virginia; Washington, DC; Houston and Austin, Texas ; Chicago, Illinois, as well as international deals for Canada, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. In total this represents over 200 locations under development.
Despite initial concern that the company’s name or its association with Muslim culture wouldn’t sit well with many Americans, Fransmart CEO Dan Rowe said that he has confidence in the company, and envisions that ”by the time they’re in Chattanooga, there will be so much good buzz, they’ll be excited to try it."
In 2005, Chicken and Rice was one of four finalists for the "Vendy Award" presented by a New York City street vendor advocacy group known as the Street Vendor Project. Chicken and Rice eventually lost out to Rolf Babiel from Hallo Berlin, a sausage cart on 54th and 5th.
In addition, the popularity of the cart has been further aided by high-profile customers. Chef Christopher Lee, who was one of Food & Wine Magazine's best new chefs of 2006, mentioned in an interview with the magazine that he "can't stay away from it" and once was there on Christmas Eve waiting two and a half hours in the cold.
The cart has since become a prominent cuisine throughout New York City and has been heard as far as Hawaii. It has caused an increase in competition among street meat carts in Midtown Manhattan. Lines commonly grow to over an hour's wait. There is also a student club at New York University dedicated to the food cart.
The Halal Guys was awarded the 2014 Multicultural Award by the American Muslim Consumer Consortium for their promotion of diversity and multiculturalism, and their inclusivity to all minorities in America.
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