In the 1950s, Ray Kroc famously stumbled onto a restaurant concept so good — it went on to take over the world.
The Halal Guys may not be the next McDonald’s, but the franchise is a great example of how good food, plus a good model for serving that food, can develop a massive cult following. The franchise recently opened a location in the Boulevard Consumer Square on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst, right next to Naan-tastic and Blaze Pizza.
Started in the 1990s as a converted hot dog cart in New York City, The Halal Guys became known for serving cheap, delicious Mediterranean food, to the point they launched a mini fleet of food carts. At one point, The New York Post said The Halal Guys carts were “perhaps the city’s most famous open-air dining destination.”
Nearly three decades since the first cart, The Halal Guys now also serves its famous Mediterranean food in the familiar fast-casual format, as seen at Niagara Falls Boulevard location. In a recent phone interview, brand manager Melvin Quintanilla told us about operating a franchise with such a big cult following.
“These guys have done such a great job over the last 25-plus years,” he said, “and now it’s just a matter of execution for us.”
Navigating the menu at some fast-casual restaurants can be a pressure-packed challenge, but at The Halal Guys — it’s pretty easy. There are only two main options: sandwiches (wraps) and platters (bowls). Chicken, beef gyro, chicken and beef, or falafel are your protein options and your can pick from toppings like tomatoes, lettuce, green peppers and cheese. There’s also the famous white sauce, which tastes similar to tzatziki, and the throat-stinging hot sauce.
“I’ll warn someone that says they like hot sauce when they order it, just because it’s so hot,” Quintanilla said. “I myself, I’ll do three lines of it and I am more than okay.”
On our visit, we found the brand-new restaurant bustling with a young, diverse crowd, the type you might expect just a stone’s throw from UB. It was a bit cramped, to be fair, but that’s not unlike most dining options in New York City. The music over the modest soundsystem was a mix of pop, indie rock and Latin.
Our falafel ‘sandwich’ was a pillowy flatbread filled with nutty falafel nuggets, herbal white sauce and fresh veggies. We found slow-roasted goodness topping our chicken and gyro platter, and ordered a side of baba ganoush that was just the right mix smokiness and citrus.
Our food came out quickly after ordering and everything tasted extremely fresh.
“I’ve worked with other brands as well, and when you go from a small mom-and-pop shop to franchising — a lot of things can be lost in translation,” Quintanilla said. “The difference with this brand is that everything is based on operations at a food cart. So, preparing the rice, pita bread and gyro is all done how it was done at the carts.”
Clearly, The Halal Guys are onto a winning formula.
The Halal Guys
1595 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst, NY
Hours: Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.