CAIRO – Halal food outlets are growing at a rapid pace in the United States, where they cater to a large, diverse Muslim community, and experts say the restaurants now compete for customers’ satisfaction and therefore earn a niche market, even among non-Muslims.
“The people are happy,” Fred Zakria, owner of Milano Pizza, one of the halal food oulets in San Joaquin County, California, told The Record newspaper on Sunday, November 21.
“It’s a good product.”
Zakria’s five-year-old restaurant sums up the story of success for halal (meaning permissible in Arabic) food outlets.
The Afghan immigrant, who came to California with his wife in 1987, had his first job at a bakery.
“That was the key for me to open the door,” Zakria recalled.
After a long process of making a life in their new country, Zakria established his halal pizza restaurant to cater to the Muslim community in San Joaquin.
In just five years, the lunchtime buzz at Milano pizza is evidence to Zakria’s success and the popularity of his business.
“I have six drivers,” Zakria said. “Now I create jobs. I train people.”
Zakria’s is part of a growing number of halal restaurants in San Joaquin.
In 1986, the first halal eatery, Stockton’s Islamic Meat & Poultry, opened its door. Currently, there are 10 halal food restaurants.
Shahed Amanullah, founder of zabihah.com, the world’s largest database of Halal restaurants, says the trend extends far beyond California.
When it was launched 12 years ago, Zabihah focused on California’s Bay Area and managed reviews of 200 restaurants.
Now, there are reviews of more than 7,000 establishments nationwide.
“There’s competition for that halal dollar,” Amanullah, who is also a journalist and a longtime Muslim American community activist, said.
“One of the growing areas of demand is fine dining that’s halal.”
Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.
Although there are no official figures, the United States is believed to be home to between 6-8 Muslims.
At Zakria’s restaurant, the pepperoni and sausage are made of beef, the ham is made of turkey, and the chicken are butchered according to Islamic guidelines.
And experts say the industry is flourishing particularly due to the competition for adjusting to the market’s needs.
“The Muslim community in America is so diverse that people are finding themselves catering to a wide variety of people,” Amanullah noted
Amanullah’s Zabihah.com lists reviews of restaurants that serve halal food.
By offering such reviews, the website creates a competition among restaurants for drawing the Muslim consumers by giving them a variety of options.
“The site is a way for the consumer to respond to the restaurant scene,” he said “I want my pepperoni pizza, and I want my halal Mexican.
“When we started, the quality of the halal establishments was really abysmal.”
Restaurant owners thought, ‘We don’t have to work on our quality because they want halal, and there’s nowhere else to get it,’” he added.
Now, many American recipes are finding its way into halal restaurants’ menus.
“It’s been really, really fascinating to see … it grow from traditional foods to more American options like pizza and burgers.”
Zakria, Milano Pizza owner, said he also believes competitive halal restaurants are increasingly finding a niche market in non-Muslim too.
“I always go here,” Jessica Kaufman, a regular customer at Milano Pizza said.
“It’s healthy and fresh, and I love the customer service.”