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The Halal Guys Are Serving Up Your Fav Gyro Right Now

Written By: Randa Akeel Halal – lujuah! The Halal Guys Have Come to Town
Photographed By: Josie Gonzalez

Eat Expert: Thomas Pham, CEO, The Halal Guys
Must Order: The Halal Classic Plate with a side of French fries and their famous white sauce.

When you think of New York, three things come to mind: the Statue of Liberty, skyscrapers and The Halal Guys. From a humble beginning as a simple hot dog cart in New York City to a world-renowned international Middle Eastern restaurant chain, The Halal Guys story is the epitome of the American Dream. It is a new and thriving element for the restaurant industry, “American Halal Food.” Not only do they offer flavorful halal meat over basmati rice, they also have hummus, tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, yogurt, Mediterranean salads and freshly made falafels on the menu. After experiencing The Halal Guys firsthand during a trip to New York, 29-year-old Thomas Pham, a true foodie, knew he wanted to be a part of this thriving American halal food venture. His exceptional work ethic and extensive experience in the marketing and branding of the restaurant and franchise industry is what lead him to become the CEO of The Halal Guys, a delicious dream come true. When Pham is not building and promoting The Halal Guys franchise here on the West Coast, he is going on food tours with friends and is one of the most social and outgoing people you will have the pleasure of meeting. His passion for hospitality is as strong and evident as his love for food.

Q: How did the legend of The Halal Guys begin and why did they create the specific menu they have?

Thomas Pham: It’s a really cool story actually! The three original founders called “The Guys, ” started out with a hot dog stand in New York and found that there was a significant demand for quick, fast and easy-to-get food for taxi drivers. So, they started The Halal Guys. From there, they created these very complicated, yet simple, flavors of chicken or gyro over rice that people could eat standing up, sitting down or on the go at any time.

Q: What is in that famous white sauce?

TP: I don’t even know what’s in the sauce! It’s not a ranch, it’s not mayo, it’s a very light sauce with few calories. The way we cook our chicken actually absorbs the white sauce, it’s all part of the bill. We don’t recommend having the chicken without it, but, of course, you can have it however you like.

Q: What makes The Halal Guys different than other Mediterranean restaurants out there?

TP: The reason the flavors are complicated, yet simple, is because chicken or gyro over rice doesn’t sound complicated. What you get in the result is a very simple platter, but the food itself is very complicated in the way it’s made. For example, the chicken has never been frozen, we marinate it and season it overnight then we put it on the grill, and serve it directly from the grill right to your plate. Rarely do you see a restaurant that can do fresh food that can serve it to that many guests in a small period like that. So we serve very quickly and serve a lot of people. It’s fresh food that has never been frozen.

Q: What is the best part of being the CEO of The Halal Guys?

TP: I would have to say hospitality. I like hanging out with the customers, getting feedback and hearing what they have to say about it. When someone is trying it for their first time, I always ask them to give me an honest opinion — What do you like about it? What can we do better? How was the service? We’re always looking to be 100 percent all the time as well as trying to improve and operate at the highest level.

Q: What has been your proudest moment while being a part of The Halal Guys?

TP: Of course, serving mouth-watering, high-quality food to the people of Southern California is our goal. But one of the things I’m proud of is creating an incredible team with an incredible working environment. Our employees love working with us and are excited to come to work each day. Almost everyone who has been with us since day one is still here. We are expanding quickly, and it doesn’t matter what position you start in, the opportunities with The Halal Guys are endless. The people we are looking for are people with a passion for hospitality and food.

Q: If you had not been franchising with The Halal Guys, what would you be doing?

TP: My partners and I have been wanting to open The Halal Guys here on the West Coast for years and years. I’ve been quoted saying to one of my buddies four years ago, who is a partner now, that if we ever open a restaurant it will be The Halal Guys and that’s it. I share that story because looking back on it really shows how powerful our passion was for The Halal Guys and how much we loved it in New York City. We’ve always been wanting to do this, and now we’re doing it. What I can tell you is that if I had not opened a restaurant, I would most likely still be marketing, branding and business consulting for restaurant owners and franchisees.

Q: Where do you see The Halal Guys in the future? Are there any other ventures in the future?

TP: We are slated to open 50 restaurants in Southern California; we are open in Long Beach with another location in Koreatown coming soon. We are very excited and we are always looking at real estate and looking to expand the brand. As far as other concepts, we don’t know yet, but as of now we are continuing to improve The Halal Guys brand.

Q: What local restaurants do you like to eat when you’re not eating a Halal Classic platter?

TP: I would have to say In N Out and North Shore Poke. For dessert, Afters Ice Cream. I order the almond cookie ice cream inside of their signature Milky Bun topped with almonds. If I had to pick my favorite dinner spot, it would be Vaca by Chef Amar Santana for their delicious drinks and variety of meets.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring restaurant owners?

TP: Something I’ve been preaching for a long time is that marketing for your restaurant is required for all business owners. You have to do marketing. You have to keep that in mind when opening a restaurant. You can’t open a restaurant and have zero people know about it. You need to have a line from day one and if you do not have a line out the door from day one, you should not open a restaurant. There’s a lot of great food and brands emerging here in Southern California and if people don’t know that your restaurant is opening or how good your food is, then no one will show up on day one. No one else is going to be as excited about the new restaurant as the owner.

Q: How has The Halal Guys been able to market itself with such great success?

TP: We are huge on the marketing, of course, and we are huge about being a part of the community. That’s even a better form of marketing. We work with eight different charities, we want to give back. Even before we opened our doors, we gave away over 2, 000 platters of food to the homeless. We work with Finders who picks up food from restaurants and delivers it to the homeless. There are so many ways we can give back and do our part for the community, which is also an excellent form of marketing. So, it’s not always about social media and being in the press. We also encourage charities to reach out to us too!

Pile It On: You can add green bell peppers, onions, olives and jalapeños to any combo plate and indulge in as much sauce as you’d like with no extra charge when you’re dining in!

Giving Back: The Halal Guys work with local charities like Women Helping Women, Orangewood Children and Family Center, Boys Hope Girls Hope of Southern California, HomeAid OC, Illumination Foundation, Someone Cares Kitchen and Food Finders.

Making his Market: Marketing guru Pham did all the marketing for Halal Guys and has also helped many other restaurants and franchises grow their brands through Slique Media, the marketing firm he runs and owns.

Sidebar: WARNING: The secret red sauce is really, really spicy!

Sidebar: What is halal? Besides being delicious, the term “halal” indicates that meats are sourced and prepared following strict Islamic dietary guidelines.

Find Halal Guys on Instagram @thehalalguysocal and Thomas Pham @eatersanonymous

The Halal Guys
3033 Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

T H A N K /// Heaven for The Halal Guys.