From burritos to tacos, as well as the special “Birra Wednesdays” (a beef stew that is slow-cooked resulting in tender beef for tacos and a flavorful stew to dip the tacos into), Hisham Abdelfattah, the owner/founder of  El Halal Amigos, along with his partners, aim to bring authentic Halal Mexican food to the Bay Area. Hisham shared his journey starting his food truck, giving back to the community, and some challenges he’s experienced along the way. 

Could you introduce yourself and let us know about your upbringing and experiences that influenced you?

My name is Hisham Abdelfattah and I’m the owner of America’s first Authentic Mexican Zabiha Halal Food Truck, El Halal Amigos, based out of Fremont. Since I was 15 years old, I’ve been passionate about the culinary industry. Growing up in the South Bay, to a Filipino mother and Palestinian dad, I was raised with a diverse background and often helped my mother in the kitchen, where my passion for cooking started. I went to the Culinary Academy of San Francisco and got my Bachelor’s degree from San Jose State in Business. I’ve had various restaurant jobs and worked the leadership role for 8 or 9 restaurants in the Bay Area. Growing up, I knew that starting and owning a restaurant business is something I really wanted to do. Many of my friends throughout school and to this day are immigrants from Mexico and I was always immersed in the culture, which led to a deep appreciation for Mexican culture and cuisine.

What inspired you to start a Halal Mexican food truck?

When I was becoming closer to my religion (Islam) and wanted to only eat Halal, I felt a part of me was ripped away from the Latin culture because there were no authentic Halal options. That’s when I got the idea to make a Taco Truck that’s Halal. When COVID hit, I was around 80% done with my business plan but had $0 capital to start the business. I decided to do this food concept thing to survive since I had lost my job. Alhamdulillah, I was able to gather some money and found a food truck from out of state. We (my team and I) opened during the COVID crisis, but I was finally able to bring my idea to fruition.

How do you keep the food authentic to its Mexican roots?

I got introduced to authentic Mexican cuisine when I traveled to Mexico. I’ve traveled to Mexico at least 5-6 times and visited Michoacán, Mexico City, and Guadalajara, staying 3-4 months. Once I did a food exploration tour because I knew I wanted to start a Halal Mexican Food Truck. I couldn’t eat most of the food, but I watched and learned. I wanted to showcase the flavorful food and vibrant colors in Mexican culture and music. Mexico is so close to us, it’s right in our backyard, but as Muslims who eat Halal, there’s a huge gap to this experience.

It’s also a team effort. My team and I work together to constantly learn and grow, listening to feedback from the community and each other to stay true to the roots of this beautiful cuisine. Who we really want to impress and get to eat Halal are Latino communities too, we want to open it up to everybody. 

We know you give back to the community around you. Can you talk about how you do that and why you think that’s an important part of your business?

From the very start, it was always about community outreach and giving back. “If you give, you shall receive”, I’m a really big advocate of that. At the start, we didn’t have capital so we relied on community support to sustain the business. Some people thought I was ridiculous, donating to organizations when we weren’t making much. I love being able to do so with organizations such as Islamic Relief USA, who we’ve partnered with and who donates to a different Muslim country every month, Alhamdulillah. I’ve always believed it’s not about the money, it’s about engaging with people, getting people excited to come out, and giving people more of a reason besides the Halal Mexican food to spend their money with us during a crisis. As a Muslim, I believe we can’t enjoy the fruits of our labor if we are not giving to those in need. 

What gives you the most satisfaction about this work?

What keeps me going is our team being recognized by big organizations such as CAIR-SFBA. We are so grateful for the people and all the positive reviews we’ve gotten, Alhamdulillah. For those that come and give us constructive feedback and tell us what we can do better, we listen because we’re doing this together. We’re a team. We’re on the food truck, but as a community for us to be labeled as the first “Halal Taco Food Truck” we need the community’s help and that’s what keeps us going. At first, it was just survival, but there’s so much passion. Everybody who works alongside me at the food truck, we’re like a family and we do everything with our hearts. 

What Halal restaurants do you recommend? 

Sala Thai, The Port of Peri-Peri, Pakwan, Mirchi Cafe, Darda, and Shawarmaji. 

What is one item you’d recommend from your food truck?  

The Birria Tacos! (served Wednesdays and takes 48 hours to make!) 

Any final comments?

I am working on a Youtube video/series titled “Food Truck Life.” I hope to invite someone who has never worked in the food business along on a typical day to see what it’s really like. 

Halal restaurants have been around a long time, but I feel Halal is really starting to create the edge it needs to get people outside of our own jurisdiction to get curious about what Halal is and how beautiful it is. To our Halal consumers, be patient. We’re figuring it out and want to grow alongside you. Be patient and unite with us. If you have something to say or advice to give, speak about it kindly to the owner of the restaurant, don’t bash them. As Muslims, we should unite together to show the beauty of our religion.

 

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This interview was conducted by Maryam Khan. Learn more about our CAIR Blog team here.

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(3/24/2021)