A street food phenom that went big time in the Big Apple is now coming to New Orleans.
The Halal Guys, a Middle Eastern chain known for its chicken and gyro platters slathered in white sauce, has a local franchise location under development in the CBD, at 301 St. Charles Ave. It should open in early summer, and it will be the first of a string of locations for the Halal Guys planned around the state.
“We like it because it’s different, it’s something new, it’s fresh and it’s very, very, very tasty,” said Logan Trotter, a partner in TMJ Group, the Lafayette-based company developing the franchise in Louisiana.
The Halal Guys started in the 1990s as a Manhattan food cart operated by three Egyptian immigrants. In a bid for the business of Muslim cab drivers, they switched from hot dogs to chicken and lamb platters, served in accordance with Islamic dietary law. This proved hugely popular beyond their original target audience. They built up a small fleet of carts, which drew long lines. In 2014, the Halal Guys opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant, and now the company is franchising its concept across the country.
In a 2014 New York Times article about these plans, the chief executive of the Halal Guys’ national franchising firm predicted the brand would become “the Chipotle of Middle Eastern food.”
In New Orleans, it will join a rising number of national brands and franchises competing with local eateries for the downtown lunch dollar.
Trotter said more locations for the Halal Guys are in the works for Uptown and on the West Bank, and his company plans to open others in Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Shreveport.
“We want to be in areas with a high daytime population and with lots of millennials,” he said, citing the brand’s popularity with younger customers.
The menu is succinct. It’s chicken or gyro sliced off the rotisserie, or falafel. They’re served in platters over rice or in pita as sandwiches. Fries and hummus are the sides. Baklava is the dessert. The brand’s calling card is its sauce, either a spicy red one or a cool, creamy white sauce.
Trotter runs the Lafayette-based company TMJ Group with partners Tarun Jolly and Aaron Motwani, who is the son of the often controversial New Orleans real estate mogul Kishore “Mike” Motwani.
Separately from TMJ Group, Aaron Motwani is redeveloping the former bank headquarters building on St. Charles Avenue that will house the Halal Guys, with 22 apartments planned on its upper floors and more retail spaces at ground level.
TMJ Group runs the Willie’s Chicken Shack restaurants in the French Quarter. The company is also developing a new Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville in the French Quarter at 336 Decatur St. For that project, TMJ has proposed constructing a new building which is now under review by city planning officials.
The Halal Guys
301 St. Charles Ave., projected opening June 2016
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.