CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Word on the street led to home comfort

26 April, 2019 — By Tom Moggach

The Halal Guys’ falafel platter with hummus

MOST street food traders share the same dream – to save up enough cash for a bricks-and-mortar restaurant.

For the first few years, it’s a joy to be light on your feet: cooking from site to site and perfecting your concept. But ultimately this lifestyle gets exhausting; you crave a place of your own.

All across London, many popular restaurants have followed this pattern, including Pizza Pilgrims, Smokestak and Pitt Cue.

Now this homegrown talent will compete with a new import from the USA – The Halal Guys,
a street food trader with global plans for expansion.

This business started life with a street stand in New York in 1990. Three friends, immigrants from Egypt, spotted a gap in the market for quick halal food and switched from selling hot dogs to chicken and doner kebabs over rice.

Hungry taxi drivers soon became a key channel for word-of-mouth marketing, and queues stretched down the block.

Fast forward a few decades and The Halal Guys has gone global, with restaurants in South Korea, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Roll-out has been via a franchise model: you sign a deal to open new venues with their support; they take a cut of the profits.

Three sites for The Halal Guys are due to open in London this year, with the first now trading just off Leicester Square. It’s an ambitious statement of intent: a large site, with seats inside and a terrace overlooking the tourist throngs on Irving Street.

We nipped in after a trip to the cinema. The place was buzzing – many tables full with happy families.

We briefly queued for our falafel wrap and foil platter piled with rice, beef doner, chicken kebab, salad, triangles of pitta bread and extra dollop of baba ganoush.

At the soda fountains, help yourself to limitless refills of all manner of synthetic concoctions such as Lime Diet Coke or Strawberry Iced Tea.

They make a fuss of their sauces, including a highly addictive, secret recipe white sauce and sizzling chilli.

In a neat trick, one smiling staff member visits each table offering top-ups.

To be perfectly honest, I seldom sit down to eat in fast food restaurants but found this experience strangely exhilarating.

The staff worked hard to be friendly. The food was flawless: decent crinkle-cut chips, a smokey baba ganoush, falafel that were crisp and not too dry.

Somewhat surprising was the restaurant’s brazen refusal to copy many of the marketing techniques that we’ve become accustomed to when dining out.

These days, most places tout the provenance of their ingredients – even McDonald’s proudly trumpets their British beef.

But there’s none of this at The Halal Guys. Even the salad is old-school with just two ingredients – shredded Iceberg and tomato.

There is also little apparent emphasis on sustainability, with single-use plastic cutlery and scant evidence of recycling.

Nevertheless, we had a fun meal and enjoyed the family vibe. It’s a winning formula, that’s for sure.

The Halal Guys,
14-15 Irving Street,
Leicester Square, WC2H
020 8706 0307
www.thehalalguys.com

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