Hjorth Leads NYC’s Halal Guys Push for National Expansion

The Halal Guys are going global.

In what started out as filling a void, The Halal Guys were a Mediterranean Halal food cart serving late night customers on the corner of 56th and 3rd street in Manhattan. They gained a following especially among cab drivers due to their late night availability, superior food and the fact that they were certified halal, a rarity when the cart opened up in 1990. Now the cart and restaurant that The New York Times called “one of the longest-running and best-known food-cart businesses in New York City” is going global, opening over 200 new locations including a restaurant just off the strip in Las Vegas, Nevada.

We spoke with Rene Hjorth, Director of Operations for The Halal Guys franchisee FOMO THG llc, who will own and operate the Las Vegas location among others. Rene spoke to us about why The Halal Guys is so popular and the exciting details, as well as the challenges, of opening a restaurant in Las Vegas.

Rene, what makes The Halal Guys so popular?

By being open late and always being available, The Halal Guys gathered a huge following. The food is superior to other options and it has become a tourist attraction and hotspot in the city. With the spread of digital media it has taken off. It is the number one reviewed food place on Yelp in New York City and the food is all over Instagram and Facebook. However at the end of the day I believe, as do many others, that it is superior to any other mediterranean food out there.

Is opening a Halal Guys restaurant in Las Vegas a challenge?halal_guys

It is a challenge and a huge opportunity. Since the economy crisis of 2008 and 2009 Las Vegas has changed its focus and become quite a culinary capital. It is less about gambling and more about the experience. It is one of the reasons we are here, because we know food is a big focus of the city. The challenge is that there is a lot of competition. It feels like there are more restaurants here than anywhere else in the world.

Could you give us some details about the restaurant?

The restaurant will be 1800 square feet wit heating for twenty-eight. The menu will be the same as the restaurants in New York city. There is a bit more variety in the restaurants than the carts. But the food is the same, it is sourced from the same place sand will be no different from The Halal Guys in New York City. The focus is on efficient, fast and friendly service.

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What is the process to be certified Halal?

First off there is a distinction between halal and kosher, they are not the same. A halal facility does not have to be blessed but all the food has to be certified halal. We get our chicken from the same farm as the New York locations which is 100% halal certified. Halal means humanely raised and slaughtered.

How are you going to source your other products? Will those also come from the same farms as New York?

We will source our lettuce and tomatos from local farms around Las Vegas. I always try and find local partners for as much as possible. I even look for local companies to supply sanitary supplies and those sorts of things. That is a decision we have made as a franchise.

Do you think you’ll see mostly people looking for Halal food specifically at the Las Vegas location?

I think we will get a healthy mix. There is wide appeal because while we do fit every certification of Halal, there are a lot of customers who don’t need to eat Halal, they just enjoy the food and service. We are also making the location similar to New York in terms of accessibility because we will be open until four am. People getting off the last shift at the casino should be able to come by and get good quality food.

Where is the restaurant located?

It is just off the strip in Chinatown. It is an up and coming food area for Las Vegas, and Las Vegas locals in particular. That is where we anted to start, to introduce our guys to the locals before moving onto the strip. We are trying to gain a loyal following first.