Behind every franchise brand there’s a story, and the story of The Halal Guys rise to international franchise success epitomises the American Dream in many ways. Last month the fast casual halal food franchise announced the next chapter in its tale of success by announcing plans to open a further 12 US locations by the end of this year, bringing its growth ambitions closer to reality.
Famed for its platters of chicken and gyro meat with rice, the story of The Halal Guys starts with humble beginnings back in 1990 as a food cart on the corner of 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. The three Egyptian founders of the brand Mohamed Abouelenein, Ahmed Elsaka and Abdelbaset Elsayed travelled to the US in search of new opportunities and a better life, beginning their entrepreneurial journey by selling hot dogs from a cart. They quickly identified a demand in the area for quick and inexpensive halal meals on the go for Muslim taxi drivers, and so The Halal Guys was born. Word spread and the cart began to attract new followers and a loyal fan base, becoming almost as legendary for the long lines of customers around the block and around the clock as it was for its newly pivoted halal menu.
The first chapter of expansion for The Halal Guys was through the launch of three additional carts in the city. It wasn’t until 2014 that the brand took the first steps into the world of franchising, having been persuaded to partner with franchise development agency Fransmart by CEO Dan Rowe who had noticed the huge amount of attention that the concept was attracting. Fransmart has a strong reputation for turning emerging restaurant concepts into successful national and global brands, having worked with well-known franchises such as Five Guys Burgers & Fries and QDOBA Mexican Grill. At the time Rowe admitted that it had taken some work to persuade the founders that franchising was a concept that could work well for the business, saying “It took me a good year to talk them into working with us because they weren’t really enamored with the idea of having hundreds of stores. They were concerned about messing up what they had built.”
It was always going to be a challenge to maintain the essence, personality and atmosphere of a street food cart when expanding into bricks-and-mortar locations through franchising. In order to achieve this the menu remains relatively small and loyal to its roots and the sites are compact in size, with stainless steel counters to replicate the street cart feel. As the company launched its first franchise locations, excitement-building launches and limited-time menu items helped to generate the very lines of customers that the original street cart was famed for.
But whilst the halal quick service brand enjoyed rapid growth in those early chapters of its franchise story, focusing on multi-unit operators to enable it to scale, the journey hasn’t been without its challenges. In 2017, The Halal Guys put a freeze on franchise recruitment when the initial buzz began to die down and lines shortened. Some restaurants began to slump, agreements with franchisees who were underperforming were terminated and some stores were closed. And then of course a global pandemic hit. Like the rest of the restaurant and hospitality industry, the brand had to quickly adapt to the very challenging trading conditions and took the opportunity to work on a new point-of-sale system and store redesigns, introduced new family meals for those confined to their homes and launched a new website, blog and app to keep in touch with customers.
Flick the pages forward to the beginning of 2022 and the beginning of this year saw The Halal Guys reach a significant milestone of one hundred stores worldwide, with locations in the United States, Canada, Indonesia, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. The current Q4 plan to open a further 12 US locations before the end of the year is to be achieved through both the onboarding of new franchisees and existing franchisees choosing to open additional units, which the brand sees as a huge marker of success. “It’s always rewarding when our existing franchisees are enjoying so much success that they decide to expand their locations,” said Ahmed Abouelenein, son of one of the original founders and CEO of The Halal Guys. “We’re also excited to welcome our new franchisees and the opportunity to bring The Halal Guys unique spin on Halal food to new parts of America.”
The very first The Halal Guys street cart continues to serve busy lines of customers each day. Theirs is a fascinating story to follow in the world of franchising and as the business edges closer to its goal of 400 locations worldwide whilst facing increased competition in the quick service marketplace, it will be interesting to see how the next chapters unfold.