Three friends opened a hot dog cart in Midtown Manhattan in 1990. The story goes that Muslim cab drivers wanted something different, so the friends added Middle Eastern-style chicken and beef, served with lettuce and tomatoes over rice in platters and in pitas as foil-wrapped sandwiches.
When the lines grew, hot dogs went by the wayside and The Halal Guys was born.
Sub "cheesesteaks" for "Middle Eastern chicken and beef," and you have the story of the creation of Pat's King of Steaks in 1930. It's all about cabbies and their boredom with hot dogs.
Naturally, a franchise company got ahold of the entrepreneurs, and last year The Halal Guys took their act on the road. Hundreds of locations in the United States and in several other countries have either opened or are in line to.
King of Prussia gets the Philadelphia area's first Halal Guys on Oct. 1 when it opens at 150 W. Dekalb Pike (484-679-1444). It's in a mini-strip next to the Target store on Route 202, a few minutes north of the mall. (A second regional location, operated by a different franchisee, is supposed to open this year in Chinatown Square, a long-delayed food hall at 1016 Race St.)
Naveen Mohiuddin, 33, a North Penn High grad and native of Lansdale who with his family operates four Burger King locations, owns the KoP store and is site-searching for others in Manayunk, somewhere on the City Avenue corridor, in West Chester, and in Bensalem.
Mohiuddin says he enjoyed the food before he was approached to invest. "I visit my sister in New York all the time," he said. "The loyalty behind the brand is what sold me."
Halal carts have popped up on sidewalks in big cities, so the experience should not be new to everyone.
The Halal Guys menu is simple. There's chicken (seasoned, grilled, and coarsely chopped), gyro (beef cooked on a vertical rotisserie and sliced down, like shawarma or doner kebab), and falafel.
It's served in a plastic-lidded aluminum pie pan with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions; a bed of rice flavored with what seems to be turmeric and cumin; and a cut-up pita. You can also get the protein wrapped in a pita with vegetables. (Note that while "gyro" is the common name for a Greek wrap, in Halal Guys' parlance it refers to the sliced beef itself.)
There's an old sidewalk cooking technique at work: The chicken is cooked and chopped, and is left in a small pile on the grill. Cooks lay pitas on top, which traps the steam from the chicken. This keeps the chicken moist and infuses the pitas with the scent of the chicken.
Part of the experience involves a drizzle of white and red sauces on top of everything. White sauce, judging by the ingredient list, is a thinned mayo. Red sauce is a hot sauce best used judiciously; it's high in the Scoville department.
Sandwiches are $6.99. Platters are $7.99 or $8.99. (Street-cart halal lunch prices today are about $5, including a bottled beverage, but...)
Sides are simply hummus, baba ghanouj, fries, and tahina. Baklava is the sole dessert.
Doors open at 11 a.m. Oct. 1. The first 100 people will receive a free platter, while the first 200 will get a T-shirt.