On Friday, June 18, The Halal Guys will open its first Colorado location as part of Parkside Retail and Residential in Aurora. Serving the classic menu of chicken, gyro and falafel platters and sandwiches — alongside the famed hot and white sauce — the new space is set to anchor the growing food-focused development. Local owners Kevin Than and Chris Bui — who grew up in Littleton and Aurora respectively — have spent nearly two years bringing The Halal Guys to life, with the 2,200 square foot space providing ample room for the inevitable long lines that have continually been synonymous with the concept.
“With the first one, we needed something sizeable and something accessible,” said Than, noting that the room is nearly double the size of most of the brand’s existing brick and mortars.
Beginning with nine days of giveaways, Than and Bui are expecting throngs of fans to turn up for what is sure to be a colossal bustle. To further fan the flames, the duo is offering free food for a year for the first 50 guests who walk through the door after the 9:45 a.m. ribbon-cutting conducted by Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman. While the menu will be identical to that of the original’s, Than and Bui are expecting the local iteration to develop its own identity, with the term Halalorado popping up across promotional materials.
“We want Colorado to know that this is not some big corporate monster,” said Bui. “We’re bringing something to our hometown that we love,” added Than.
For anyone who has tasted The Halal Guys, the idea that a prominent public servant should be present at the debut simply makes sense. The straightforward menu has long provided the all-hour lifeblood for New Yorkers of every ilk, with little change happening to the recipes in the over three decades it has been in existence. The concept was originally opened in New York in 1990 by Mohamed Abouelenein, Ahmed Elsaka and Abdelbaset Elsaye. The trio spent nearly two years selling hot dogs from rather a quaint cart at 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, before switching to something resembling the current menu after realizing there was a massive market of Muslim taxi drivers who preferred the Middle Eastern staples of home. Since then, it has grown from a small fleet into an international franchise with over 90 locations across the United States, London, Korea, Canada and the Philippines. The original location still continues to draw crowds, providing fast food for a generation that has always appreciated flavors from across the globe.
The place is built for speed, requiring a total of 50 employees to enact the built-to-order fast-casual design. Platters — dutifully constructed over steaming beds of flavorful yellow rice — and sandwiches — packed generously into pitas — are the fundamental backbone of the operation. From there, thinly-sliced gyro, chicken and falafel can be mixed and matched with a slew of toppings including black olives, white onions, green bell peppers, tomato, lettuce and jalapeno. But it’s the sauce — that comes both drizzled on the dish and in appropriately oversized packets — that clearly makes the case for The Halal Guys’ worldwide success. The white sauce is strong enough to carry the entire franchise, an incomparable sauce built for drenching and then drenching some more. The hot sauce is decidedly uncompromising, lending a legitimately bold heat most fast food purveyors would never even consider touching. Sides include hummus, baba ghanoush and falafel and fries. For dessert, the baklava comes dotted with crushed pistachios so green they practically glow in the dark.
With the success of the first iteration all but assured, Than and Bui have said that more are to come, with locations across the front range set to join in the coming years. “Chris and I are from here. We’re gonna see it through to the end,” grinned Than.
The Halal Guys is located at 14535 East Alameda Ave. Suite D, Aurora. It is open from Sunday – Thursday from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
All photography by Kori Hazel.