The Halal Guys, a beloved New York fast food staple on wheels, has finally opened their first brick and mortar restaurant in San Francisco. We interviewed the chain’s director of operations Rene Hjorth a week before opening. As last minute preparations were being made, we talked about the franchise’s future plans, what they want to bring to our city and Rene’s favorite dish.
Was the process of opening in San Francisco different than opening in the other brick and mortar locations?
RH: We knew it was going to be a longer rollout because the actual construction of the shop would take a while. So we decided to open at a takeout location in the city that serves the exact same food. We were lucky to find a buildout restaurant that was ready to serve people immediately, we couldn’t open it as a full restaurant because it takes longer to get one that looks the part.
Is the franchise’s goal to eventually expand nationwide?
RH: As a branch, The Halal Guys are exploding globally, in the Philippines, Southeast Asia and they’re all over the US so we’re growing rapidly.
How do you decide what food goes on the menu?
RH: The menu has been tweaked very little. Since it was developed back in 1990, there are some things we have at the restaurant you will not see in the food carts in New York. And those are the fries, we have hummus, we have babaganoush, we have baklava and we offer fountain drinks. So there aren’t really changes to the menu, but there are some additions.
How do you choose ingredients?
RH: Everything, except for our produce, is sourced from the exact same place that we use for the food carts. It’s very important to all of us that you get the same product in San Francisco as you would in New York. So everything is 100 percent the same, I just find my local produce, so we can get the freshest product. But everything else, from chicken, to gyros, to hummus, everything that you would consider crucial to Halal Guys is from the same source.
What’s your favorite thing in the menu?
RH: The dish I think everyone should try is also my favorite, it’s the combo platter because it has chicken and gyro. I choose to change it up a little, and add a ton of jalapenos and barbeque sauce to mine.
What do you think makes you different than San Francisco’s other Middle Eastern or Halal restaurants?
RH: Our focus is on community and affordability, like our regular platter is under $10. We want to make sure that you can get a full meal for around $10 and that you can get a meal whenever you want. We open at 10 a.m. and we’re open until 2 a.m. on weekdays and 4AM on weekends. I can surely say that we put a ton of effort into our training and into the quality of the food that we serve. So right now, we’re working on our third week of training, just to make sure when we open our doors, that everything is authentic and as good as it can be.
The Halal Guys
340 O’Farrell St, San Francisco, CA 94102
Photo Courtesy of Claudia Sanchez/ Foghorn