Two South Shore men are on a mission to change the way people see — and eat — halal food.
Tahmid Bashir, of Merrick, and Adil Palwala, of Valley Stream, have created Hal & Al Meats and Provisions, a halal food distribution company, with hopes set on changing the halal food industry.
“A lot of people who are strictly halal, they’ve never had a quality burger in their life,” Bashir said. “And now, people are eating our burgers, and think they’re great. It’s like experiencing food for the first time.”
“Halal is years behind kosher foods,” Palwala said. “There are not many options when it comes to halal.”
Everyone Bashir and Palwala know who eats strictly halal, they said, once had to stick to “sub-par” seafood and vegetarian options, or a single burger spot offering halal burgers — none of which reached the level quality they wanted.
Halal meats, according to Bashir, are typically low-quality to offset the cost of the special preparation. Those who strictly eat halal — which means “passable” in Arabic — view the method of killing the animal as humane. It involves cutting the animal’s jugular, carotid arteries and windpipe, then letting the blood drain as a Muslim prayer is recited.
While most people see the result of that preparation at the food carts littering New York City’s street corners, Bashir and Palwala are aiming for a different, more American cuisine.
Moving away from the classic lamb or beef over rice, or gyros, the two offer more familiar dishes like cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches at their new restaurant in the city, “Holy Cow.”
“Holy Cow is doing great,” Palwala said. “It’s packed almost every day. And not just with Muslim people.”
During rush hours, there are lines out the door too, he said.
Their distribution business, Hal & Al, also provides halal meats to local venues for their menus. Their service extends beyond the meat, though, Palwala said. “We’re not just meat suppliers. We do food storage, delivery and we cut the meat.”
Hal & Al, which opened in July, is now the exclusive supplier of halal meats for five different restaurants, Palwala said, and the duo are already getting “countless” phone calls from business owners interested in adding a halal option to their menu.
Sam’s Steak & Grill, a steakhouse in Valley Stream, gets all of their beef product from Hal & Al. Manager Mohammad Qadri said that he receives both quality meat and service. “All of the beef is grass fed and well prepared and is triple A quality,” he said. “I just place an order, the product comes in and they ship and process it from their business.”
To spread the awareness of halal foods, Palwala and Bashir took it a step further — they organized the first halal food festival on Long Island. On Sept. 29, the Hal & Al Food Fest premiered, with over 15 food and goods vendors setting up shop outside of Nassau Coliseum.
The air quickly filled with the smells of lamb chops, burgers, kebabs and traditional halal meats sizzling on the outdoor grills, which attracted hundreds of visitors to the fest — a diverse crowd consisting of more than just strictly halal-eating Muslims. Bashir and Palwala were happy with the exposure, they said.
“To a lot of the people I grew up around at Mepham, halal is chicken over rice,” Bashir said. “I want to get away from the food carts and into the mainstream. I want to change what people think of halal, and I hope, in turn, places like Merrick can be more cultural.”
“We want food to be a reason for all people to get together,” Palwala said. “Of all nationalities.”