USA: From Famous NYC Food Cart to Fast-Growing Fast Casual Chain

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large, Foodable Network

Today’s foodie isn’t always interested in cuisine they are used to. It’s really a great time to be a diner, especially those that want to try different flavors. The restaurant market now offers an array of diverse cuisines, many of which at an affordable price.

Middle-eastern cuisine, in particular, is on the rise. We are seeing more of this style of food now be served in the fast casual format.

Another trend we have seen over the last five years are food cart and mobile concepts expanding to brick-and-mortar stores.

The chain Halal Guys have been a part of both movements, appealing to customers looking for middle-eastern tastes while also expanding from a wildly popular NYC food cart to fast casual chain.

We decided to take a closer look at the middle-eastern concept and it’s evolution from food cart to fast casual chain.

The Beginning

In 1990, the three founders aka “The Halal Guys” Muhammed Abouelenein, Ahmed Elsaka, and Abdelbaset Elsayed opened up a modest hot dog cart on West 53rd & 6th Avenue in New York City.

But, the founders soon realized that the last thing NYC needed was another hot dog stand. So in 1992, the cart switched over to a new menu and officially became The Halal Guys.

Their target demographic at first were individuals who recognized middle-eastern cuisines, specifically Muslim cab drivers looking for a quick bite in between rides.

The brand quickly became famous for their chicken and gyro over rice platter and the red and white sauces.

Guests wait in the long line to get The Halal Guys' grub | YELP

Guests wait in the long line to get The Halal Guys’ grub | YELP

The cart would often have a long line of patrons, but cabbies weren’t the only ones waiting for the middle-eastern street fare. Tourists and locals working in NYC would flock to the stand and battle out the crowds.

Now there carts are all over NYC and other cities.

The founders told “Entrepreneur Magazine,” that their customer-base is 95% non-muslim and that they consider themselves as “American Halal food.”

But the interesting thing is the concept didn’t enter the brick-and-mortar arena until much later. In after almost 25 years in the food cart business, the founders opened two NYC corporate stores in 2014.

Then the chain decided to go into franchising in 2015. Now, there a number of stores worldwide, including in New Jersey, Virginia, Florida, Illinois, Texas, Nevada, California in the U.S. and even in Canada and South Korea.

The chain announced that it had franchising deals for 225 new units within its first year of franchising.

So, it’s safe to say that The Halal Guys has an aggressive growth plan.

Why it Works

So what is it about The Halal Guys that diners love so much? Well, first it’s the food. The Halal Guys food cart, with the tagline “we are different,” has over 8,000 reviews on Yelp, most of which rave about the taste of the food and the high quality.

The menu is simple, guests pick between a platter or sandwich. The platters have rice, pita, lettuce and tomatoes with a selection between chicken, gyro and falafel and sandwiches are the same except the ingredients are all wrapped in a pita sandwich. There are two sides–fries, hummus or tahini with pita and baklava for dessert.

You can’t forget the famous sauces– white or spicy red.

“But 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… Get ready to taste it, America,” wrote the “New York Times.”

The smell of the food fills the street of NYC and the brand’s cult following can’t resist the urge to jump in line.

Another thing guests love about the concept is the value. Not only is it affordable, most spend about $8 a meal, but they give large portions.

Even with the long lines, it doesn’t always mean there will be a long wait. Fast speed of service is a priority.

Before guests complained that there was no set place to consume the food, but now with the brick-and-mortar stores, foodies can sit comfortably to eat.

So, how different are the stores from the food carts?

“They sell the same things as the carts, but we’ve brought in the best technology and used the same color scheme as the cart. We designed them to make sure the customer who walks in has the same feeling they do at the street cart but also has a place to sit down and be comfortable and enjoy the same quality food,” said Hesham Hegazy, director of Brand Development to “Entrepreneur Magazine.”

It looks as though that fans aren’t the only ones lining up at The Halal Guys, franchisees are signing on like wildfire to bring the middle-eastern fare to diners in cities all over the globe.

Even though the concept has been around for a long time, this looks like just the beginning.