New York, New York, it’s a halal of a town.
So the men behind the wildly popular Halal Guys food carts are opening their first restaurant Saturday, the initial step in the planned worldwide expansion of an operation that started with a lone hot-dog cart in 1990.
The eatery, a 20-seat joint on 14th St. in the East Village, will serve a prettified version of the Middle Eastern street food that draws lines down the block in Midtown.
It’s only the beginning for founders Mohamed Abouelenein, 59, and Abdelbaset Elsayed, 51, who both live in Astoria.
“For me, the (East Village restaurant) is not my aim,” says Abouelenein. “This is just the first step. I am imagining something bigger than this.”
It’s the ultimate New York story: Abouelenein was a veterinarian, and Elsayed was a business student when they emigrated from Egypt “looking for a dream,” Abouelenein says.
For the first few years, the “dream” consisted of jobs as kitchen helpers and cab drivers. Then they began running a cart at Sixth Ave. and 53rd St. — now known as “the original location.”
You just look at the lines [at Halal Guys], and it’s people from all walks of life. That right there is a franchise. It’s absolutely the right time now.
Hot dogs were fine, but the pair quickly realized that Muslim cabbies were hungry for a tasty — and halal-certified — bite in Midtown without having to leave the car.
Success came by word of (salivating) mouth. Now the Halal Guys carts nourish tourists and office workers with simple gyros and a “magic” white sauce. The biggest seller at their five carts — three on 53rd St. in Midtown, one in the East Village and one in Long Island City — is the combo rice platter: chicken and rice over salad, with pita.
Some things won’t change at the new restaurant, including the 7 a.m. to 4 a.m. hours and the no-alcohol policy. “Most of our customers aren’t Muslim, but we are,” Elsayed says. “We have to respect our religion.”
In addition to the standard gyros and platters sold at the carts, the restaurant will boast new offerings, including a juice and smoothie bar, hummus, tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, Mediterranean salads and yogurt. And the falafels will be made fresh, instead of merely reheated at the carts.
While a rice-and-meat platter is $6 at Halal Guys’ carts, the East Village restaurant will offer two sizes: a regular for $6 and a large for $7.Next, the Halal Guys will open a larger restaurant at Amsterdam Ave. and 95th St.
Then, they’ll take on the world!
Abouelenein and Elsayed are working with Fransmart — the franchise company behind the rapidly expanding Five Guys Burgers and Fries brand — to open restaurants in L.A., San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Houston.
“You just look at the lines [at Halal Guys], and it’s people from all walks of life,” says Dan Rowe, founder of Fransmart. “That right there is a franchise. It’s absolutely the right time now, (because) halal food is going to become the new standard. There are already a zillion burger brands.”
Rowe said he’ll eventually roll out Halal Guys in the Philippines, South Korea, and even the Middle East.
“Sure, there’s lot of other halal food there,” Rowe says. “But there was plenty of burgers and fries in America — yet there was still room for Five Guys, which now has 1,500 locations. And this is going to be bigger than Five Guys.”
Abouelenein, who oversees the Halal Guys’ carts, remains astounded by the international interest.
“When you’re working at your pushcart, you keep working and you don’t follow what’s happening about your name,” Abouelenein says. “And then (I discovered) all this demand. The name ‘Halal Guys’ had spread all over the world — and I didn’t even know it.”
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Halal Guys, 307 E. 14th St., at Second Ave.; (212) 533-7705. Open daily starting Saturday, 7 a.m.-4 a.m.