The El Halal Amigos food truck now boasts a brick-and-mortar location. Owner Hisham Abdelfattah shares insight on his cuisine, his success and his love for community.
Two years ago, Hisham Abdelfattah, seeing a void of Halal-Mexican cuisine in the Bay Area of California, launched his first food truck, El Halal Amigos, in Fremont.
His goal was to share his love of the flavors of Mexico. Despite the country being hip-deep in the COVID-19 pandemic, the community response was immediate as a line of customers wrapped around the parking lot on his second day of opening.
Now the Filipino and Palestinian chef has launched his first brick-and-mortar location, in San Jose, to further share his love of the cuisine.
The quest to share his love of the cuisine wasn’t his lone goal. He also aimed to prioritize faith-based community members who only eat Halal yet want to enjoy the flavors and ingredients of Mexican cuisine. His concept of him is also built on a philanthropic mission and connection to community and a portion of proceeds is donated every month to local charities and nonprofits, including Islamic Relief USA.
Food Truck Operator reached out to Abdelfattah in an email interview to get insight on his food truck business strategy, lessons learned in launching a truck, as well as a physical restaurant, and tips for other food truck operators striving to attain success.
Q. How did the food truck business come about, and did you have any food truck experience beforehand?
A. I started El Halal Amigos with very humble beginnings. Prior to opening this food truck, I had been in the restaurant and food industry for a long time and managed several different concepts. I had always wanted to start my own business and being the first 100% Halal Mexican concept in the Bay Area really excited me, but I didn’t have the capital to start something huge. So, when 2020 hit, I figured it was a great time to start making things happen, get investors and help friends get jobs, etc. I was very lucky to find a food truck in Utah and we brought it over to California. Getting the permits was a huge struggle but a good struggle because we opened in August 2020; it’s been such an adventure with ups and downs but I’m so grateful to be able to share this delicious food with the Bay Area community.
One of our goals is to serve faith-based community members who only eat Halal but still want to enjoy the authentic flavors and high-quality ingredients found in Mexican cuisine. The Arabic influence on Mexican cuisine is present within El Halal Amigos’ spices and flavors, and the dishes highlight the best of authentic Mexican cuisine, just without the pork. We feel very fortunate to also be able to give back to the community through donating a portion of proceeds every month to local charities and nonprofit organizations including the Islamic Relief USA.
Q. Looking back on starting the business is there anything you would do different if you were launching a truck today?
A. At 100%. One of the key things that comes to mind is I would have taken more time to find a food truck that was a better fit to the El Halal Amigos concept. While the kitchen in the food truck was brand new, the engine was old, and I wish it was just a bit more suitable for serving Mexican food.
Q. What are some tips and advice you have for those looking to launch a food truck?
The biggest advice I can give is to do a ride along. The process from morning to night of running a food truck is unlike anything anyone has experienced until you experience it. You want to be there, watching what the workers are going through because it’s time consuming and a difficult process, more than meets the eye. Another piece of advice is to lock your location down ahead of time. Shopping malls don’t like having food trucks in their lots and one of our biggest challenges was finding a location. So, if you’re able to secure that down ahead of time and have the permit ready, that will make the process a lot easier.
Q. What have been the top challenges and how did you go about solving them?
A. One of our top challenges was locking down a location. Once I got the truck, we got a permit for the city of Newark, California in the East Bay. At the time, DMVs weren’t operating at 100% so getting a permit in Fremont or Santa Clara would have been more difficult. We went from shopping center to shopping center because they didn’t want us in their lots. Eventually a Foodmax gave us the OK and we were there for about two to three days before we got a complaint from the overall shopping center. We finally landed at Fremont Flowers and the owner, Dirk Lorenz, was very welcoming and allowed us to operate there.
Q. What is something a new food truck operator likely doesn’t know until he’s knee deep in running the business?
A. From the outside, running a food truck can look pretty simple since it’s a kitchen on wheels. But, until you’re knee deep running it, a new operator may not realize the ins and outs and complications that come up throughout a day. Especially if one doesn’t have a secured location, it can be really difficult to move around and still have a constant flow of customers.
Q. What prompted the idea to launch a brick-and-mortar? Will you keep the food truck up and running as well?
A. Expanding to a brick-and-mortar was always our goal. Having a home location makes everything easier as we can prepare and sell at the same place.
We got here by having two years under our belt to save as much as we can. We want to focus heavily on catering and parties now that we have a home base, and have temporarily closed the food truck to allow for more focus during these opening months but plan to reopen soon!
Q. What’s been your strongest marketing tool for the food truck and overall marketing strategy?
A. From day one, even before I bought the food truck, social media has been our strongest and main focus in terms of marketing. In April 2020, before we had even bought the truck, we had secured the name and logo, so I started posting, sharing “coming soon,” the process of creating the menu, buying the food truck in Utah, etc.
Our following on Instagram and TikTok is 100% organic from the start and it’s great to be able to have that “free marketing” tool to showcase customers what our food is all about. I love creating stories and videos showing how a menu item is made, and social media has been a great tool to promote the restaurant.
Q. Can you provide insight on the restaurant — size, seating, if the menu will be the food truck or something different?
A. The brick-and-mortar location is formatted in a quick service fashion, but our goal was to make the atmosphere feel like guests are still eating at a food truck.
While guests are sitting down inside, the community and intimate vibe with loud music makes it feel intimate. From our food truck, we’ve carried over our string lights; we want people to look at their neighbors’ food and say “wow I want to try that next time.”