The Halal Guys Opens in Berkeley

The super-popular chain opened its second Northern California location in late January near downtown BART.


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Photo by Lori Eanes

Having signed a lease on the space in 2015, then spent nearly two years doing renovations, The Halal Guys finally opened its second Northern California location in late January on that busy block of Center Street between UC Berkeley’s West Gate and Downtown Berkeley BART.

It’s just a few doors away from not just one but two other falafel spots, Oasis Grill and the venerable, thriving-since-1992 Bongo Burger — and about a block from Shattuck Avenue’s Flying Falafel. But The Halal Guys is nothing if not confident.

And not without cause. In last year’s annual Future 50 Report, Restaurant Business magazine named The Halal Guys the nation’s fastest-growing restaurant concept.

Having begun in 1990 as a New York City hot-dog cart whose menu changed once its owners realized how many Muslim cab drivers sought halal fast food, the group now boasts over 350 locations in development around the world, proffering (or preparing to proffer) bounteous halal-certified chicken, gyro, and falafel sandwiches and platters as well as fries, other sides, and baklava.

And that’s what’s served at the cheery red-tables-and-trays Berkeley shop, where regional director of operations Renè Hjorth has ensured that as many ingredients as possible are sourced locally.

“Since we have the world’s simplest menu, if we mess up any item on that menu, there’s nothing we can do to compensate. So we’ve got to be sure that we’re super-consistent,” Hjorth avowed.

Available in two different sizes — the “regular” version weighs in at a hefty 1.5 pounds — the meat, falafel, and combo platters include salad, olives, hummus, baba ganoush, chopped onions, and peppers, tender pita triangles, and tasty long-grained rice. Customers can add as much as they like of béchamel-style white sauce, fiery red sauce, and/or tahini.

Quick-service-restaurant customers “want the exact same food experience every time,” Hjorth explained. “If the food is phenomenal, they’ll return, and you’ll gain loyal fans. Consistency has to be there, and to get consistency you need really well-trained employees.

“I’m a big believer in training. I say you need at least three full days of training just to be a dishwasher.”

 

The Halal Guys, 2126 Center St., Berkeley, 510-705-1158, TheHalalGuys.com

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