In this multi-part series, Eat America will be exploring North American cities emerging as dining destinations for lovers of halal cuisine. Read as we profile a sampling of chefs who are bringing boldness and brilliance to the market while employing social media to showcase themselves and their restaurants. This report was made possible with research conducted on behalf of McCormick For Chefs.
There is growing interest in people today, especially within millennials, in what we are eating, where our food is coming from and plus a concern for how the animals are being treated.
Halal food, prepared as per Muslim dietary law, already occupies a small but rapidly growing niche in the well-trodden path of America’s food culture and is found anywhere, from small supermarkets to large-scale restaurants. According to the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, Halal sales are currently projected at $20 billion and rising.
In 1998, Halal-searching site creator Shahed Amanullah was only able to find approximately 200 locations that served halal food. Today, Zabihah is tracking over 7,600 and halal is making inroads not just with Muslims but is also appealing to those who prefer an ethical, organic and cleaner manner of meat slaughter.
Meanwhile, these are some of the chefs feeding the hungry palates of America’s halal-loving population.
Juan Riesco’ at Nini’s Deli
The one-man-show Juan Riesco has transformed his parents’ one-stop shop for food and groceries into a restaurant primarily for sandwiches on a quiet residential block of West Town Chicago. Nini’s Deli is a full-time restaurant featuring a fascinating blend of Cuban and Lebanese flavors, with some additional traditional favorites (such as Cuban steaks and falafels). Nini also features exclusive dishes including the Media Noche, a sandwich stacked with fried plantains, turkey, mustard, and pickles plus the Ocean Perch Jibarito, completed with his Pops’ sweet homemade coleslaw as seen below. Yum!
Nini’s Deli presence on social media goes hand in hand with the restaurant’s energetic aura. Routine tweets promoting their sandwich specials and an Instagram account serve as Nini’s Deli’s primary form of advertisement. These accounts feature photos of their bright sun-streaked interior and eye-catching presentation of the food (for example, the sandwiches are wrapped in checkered paper and their multi-colored lemonade jars). This is not a typical neighborhood deli. Juan’s contagious enthusiasm translates itself onto @NinisDeli Twitter account.
Cedric and Alex at Go! Sy Thai
The owners of Go! Sy Thai, Cedric and Alex Lee have recreated Bangkok within Detroit. The moment their customers walk into their restaurant, they experience a space surrounded by reminders of Thai cities. This ranges from posters meant to recall advertising found throughout cities in Thailand, to the colorful and brightly lit interior and overhead lanterns.
Go! Sy Thai aims to highlight the restaurant’s fast-casual dining concept and has something for everyone. Their offering includes halal, gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options in large portions, good prices, and lots of spice.
The same degree of variety translates into their Instagram account, keeping their brand alive by the means of; interaction with followers, giveaways, mixers and competitions.
Jason, Hasnain and Vijay at Tava Kitchen
Three friends, Jason, Hasnain and Vijay, set out on a mission to help America fall in love with the flavors of the South. They created ‘Tava Kitchen’ to integrate all these southern flavors, avoiding discrimination when it comes to the mains and sides. As co-founder Hasnain very aptly puts it, “We created boundaries on a map. I don’t want to create them on a plate”.
We are loving Tava Kitchen’s strong social media presence and ethnically diverse visual identity on their Instagram, capturing the essence and flavors of the South across their locations in San-Francisco and California.
Muhammed Abouelenein, Ahmed Elsaka, and Abdelbaset Elsayed at The Halal Guys
The Halal Guys, Muhammed Abouelenein, Ahmed Elsaka, and Abdelbaset Elsayed, took the simple concept of a street cart serving meat dishes mainstream, relying solely on the power of word of mouth in New York City.
Their success story has only just begun. They have taken their American Halal Food concept worldwide. With a following as loyal as theirs and the tempting dishes they prepare, they connect with their fan following through their social media accounts. This allows them to keep their followers updated about their new locations as well as their menu. With anticipation levels exceptionally high, we can’t wait for their grand opening in Toronto!
Rida Salman is an Online Content and Digital Marketing Specialist. Having done a Masters in Digital Futures from OCAD University she has both education and industry experience in Digital Marketing. She is also the Account Coordinator at Branding and Buzzing.