Twenty-six years after opening as a food cart in Manhattan, popular gyro-and-pita-sandwich chain The Halal Guys opened their first Canadian location today on Mackay Street, right next to Concordia University’s downtown campus.
Montrealer Lu-uy Tran is behind the iconic yellow shawarma vendor making its first foray north. He tells Eater that since he was already a fan of their food, it was an easy decision for him to jump in as a franchisee.
“I was a client of The Halal Guys, every time I went to New York I would stop by their cart.”
He saw an announcement that they were coming to Toronto and put his hand up to open a "Montreal location. Toronto’s store is expected to open later in the fall.
Aficionados of the original Halal Guys will be pleased to know that the Montreal location is a clone of the New York outlets.
“It’s identical to New York. We source our meat from the same places as them, and approved local farmers for the chicken. The secret sauce is from them,” explained Tran.
But the opening has drawn controversy: on Tuesday, Global News reported that the store’s English name drew the attention of some angry francophones on the internet.
Reviews posted on The Halal Guys’ Facebook before the store even opened accused the store of breaking Bill 101, Quebec’s language law which requires business signage to be primarily in French. Some commenters, using French words that ranged from colourful to offensive, also took exception to the store's clearly-marked halal menu, dubbing the franchise as racist without much of a sense of irony.
Tran said officials from Quebec's language authority, the Office québécois de la langue française — sometimes dubbed the "language police" — paid him a visit yesterday, following the Global News report. It turns out that the store — with its French menu and French-speaking servers — followed the language laws correctly, except for one small sticker.
Trademarked business names do not need to be translated into French, although it remains a mystery as to why the self-appointed language police of the internet took aim at a single brand-new store and not the myriad Burger King locations (or Roi du Burger?) throughout Montreal.
Tran said he was disappointed by the focus on the store's signage.
"They were just assuming. They didn’t talk about the food, they talked about the sign."
The fuss didn’t seem to put a dent in sales: by lunchtime on opening day, Halal Guys were averaging a 30-minute wait.
- The Halal Guys [official]
- The Halal Guys Montreal [Facebook]
- First Montreal Halal Guys restaurant stirs up language controversy [Global News]
- The Halal Guys, famous for a New York food cart, are coming to Toronto [CBC]