Halal food cart settles in East Brunswick

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com 

Most New York City hot-dog carts barely get a passing glance from busy pedestrians.

But there’s one Big Apple food cart that has been pulling in lines so long that customers sometimes wait for hours during its 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. hours. It has inspired a chain of 200 worldwide restaurants, one which is coming to East Brunswick April 30.

The Halal Guys, called, “one of the longest-running and best-known food-cart businesses in New York City” by the New York Times and “perhaps the city’s most famous open-air dining destination” by the New York Post, features American Halal Food, or premium-quality seasoned Halal chicken, gyro or falafel over a bed and rice, pita, lettuce and tomatoes and covered in the famous white or hot sauce.

Khattab Abuattieh of Princeton, operations manager of the new 621 Route 18 location, said that he and his business partners have been fans of the Halal Guys for over 15 years.

Lines for the food cart sometimes last for hours. (Photo: ~Courtesy of the Halal Guys)

Lines for the food cart sometimes last for hours.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of the Halal Guys)

“We used to drive to the New York City food cart on nights and weekends just to get the halal food,” he said. “I have tried other food carts and nothing even comes close.”

Abuattieh and his business partners have plans to open more Halal Guys locations on the East Coast.

About a year and a half ago, the team began the East Brunswick project, which has spawned into a 1,250-square-foot restaurant that seats 23 people. Platter and sandwich prices at the East Brunswick location range from $5.99 to $8.49.

“Since it’s based off of a food cart in New York City, it’s in a style where people pick up their food and then are on their way,” said Abuattieh.

Abuattieh said the Halal Guys in East Brunswick will be exactly the same as the New York City food-cart version, just in a different environment where people can have a seat if they choose to. He does expect the restaurant to have long lines, similar to the food cart.

Halal Guy food cart lines can last for hours. (Photo: ~Courtesy of the Halal Guys)

Halal Guy food cart lines can last for hours. (Photo: ~Courtesy of the Halal Guys)

“Although you see long lines at the cart, people know the line moves quickly and it will be the same at the restaurant,” he said. “The lines were out the door for about six months at some of the other new locations, so we expect to have lines out the front door for the first month or more.”

Because Route 18 is so well traveled and the demographics of the area, Abuattieh said that his marketing and real estate team “loved” the East Brunswick location. Judging from social media feedback, 9,000 Facebook likes and frequent knocks on the yet-to-be-unlocked doors, the team is expecting much success.

Abuattieh said, “Once we got our sign outside, people couldn’t stop asking us when we would open. As the construction got going, people would open the door and ask if we were open yet.”

The famous halal food may come out of the kitchen quickly, but that doesn’t mean that the restaurant owners sacrificed any bit of quality to pump out the high-quality meats, which separates the Halal Guys from its food-cart competitors.

According to Abuattieh, it was this attention to quality that attracted his team to the franchise in the first place — besides the scrumptious food.

The Halal Guys is different than other food carts because they only use premium-quality meats. (Photo: ~Courtesy of the Halal Guys)

The Halal Guys is different than other food carts because they only use premium-quality meats. (Photo: ~Courtesy of the Halal Guys)

“The owners really care about the preparation of the food,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s one customer or 40 customers, they are very particular about how it’s prepared. There is no cutting corners.”

The Halal Guys operation began in 1990, when the “Halal Guys” — Egyptian immigrants Muhammed Abouelenein, Ahmed Elsaka and Abdelbaset Elsayed — launched their own American dream by opening a hot-dog cart on West 53rd and 6th Avenue.

However, surrounded by dozens of other hot-dog carts, they noticed a hole in the street-side marketplace — no halal food for Muslim cab drivers looking for one of their favorite meals: a platter of chicken and gyro over rice, smothered in white or red sauces.

“I love the white sauce, the crispy lettuce, the premium chicken,” said Abuattieh. “And the combination of all of it together? Just delicious.”

The Halal Guys

Opening Date: April 30

Where: 621 Route 18, East Brunswick

Cost: Platters and sandwiches range from $5.99 to $8.49

Contact: thehalalguys.com, 732-254-2525

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