What Made The Halal Guys Different (and How You Can Be, Too)

By Renee Mitson, Foodable Contributor

If you’re a native New Yorker, or have even lived in NYC for a short time, it’s likely you’ve felt the craving for The Halal Guys and their legendary white sauce. If you haven’t, you can’t go wrong with rice platters full of fresh shawarma, crispy falafel, and shredded veggies. The late night food cart is open when everyone else is snoozing, can be sniffed from down the block, and provides quick and friendly service. What’s not to like?

But even with the right food at a great price (it would be hard to spend $10), some have wondered what makes The Halal Guys such a breakout success. With the announcement of their impending franchise (which means more chicken and gyro deliciousness for non-New Yorkers), it begs the question: “How did they do it?”

How They Got Started

Believe it or not, The Halal Guys got their start as a hot dog stand, not unlike the hundreds you see lining the streets of New York City. As time went on, the founders (Mohamed Abouelenein, Ahmed Elsaka and Abdelbaset Elsayed, all immigrants from Egypt) saw a need for a Muslim-friendly food option for cab drivers. They immediately changed their offerings to platters and sandwiches with falafel and halal meats including chicken and beef with veggie, rices, and different Middle Eastern sauces.

Franchising

Last year, after over a decade of success (including bragging rights as being the first trademarked halal food chain), The Halal Guys cut a deal with Fransmart, the franchise development company behind Five Guys and Qdoba. Originally the plan was for 100 new locations over the next five years, but due to the overwhelming interest from people looking for a piece of their success, they have recently announced that over 200 locations will open within the next calendar year. Seems like a dream come true, right?

3 Ways to Improve Your Restaurant Operations

While it’s easy to look at another’s success as overnight, there are some pretty keen takeaways from The Halal Guys success story, from management to service to passion. Here are our top three:

1. Beat out the competition by always being available.

Almost all of The Halal Guys locations are open till 4 or 5 a.m. This was to meet the need of cab drivers, yes, but also it lends itself to their growing business outside of drivers. As a New Yorker, you never have to wonder if they are open. If you know a location and you’re hungry, you know you can get a great meal -- anytime.

2. Be present, but don’t micromanage.

Last year, right after the franchising announcement, The New York Times did a piece on the blossoming restaurant chain. They found that general manager Hegazy will often sit at a Starbucks nearby to one of his carts so that he can see firsthand how business is going without breathing down the neck of his employees.

Since their brand is based on friendly and quick service, that’s what he is looking for. Instead of asking each customer what they thought or harassing patrons for a survey, Hegazy takes a more visual approach. How is the line moving? Are customers being served promptly? Is service courteous? Where can they expedite the process?

3. Don’t be afraid to adapt to your success.

People were surprised to learn that many of the upcoming franchise locations will not be on the street, but rather in mall food courts or in strip malls, much more like a true QSR. Although the founders have acknowledged that this will veer slightly away from what made the original brand a success, they aren’t afraid. They have been working on making the transition a smooth one by offering slightly larger portions as well as Middle Eastern desserts. This is the same flexibility that made the carts a success to start. Don’t be afraid to adapt to the needs of your consumers, and planning accordingly.

So what’s the limit for this American success story? According to the founders, we will soon see The Halal Guys in Canada and even in the Middle East. If you’re looking to be a part of the action, you can apply to franchise a location in your home city here.