In two local IHOPs, the Ramadan halal specials were a great success

Mohammad Ashraf, owner of an IHOP franchise in Fullerton, observed in amazement what happened during Ramadan this year.

Cars often double-parked in front of the restaurant chain before dawn as members of the Muslim community gathered, hoping for offerings of halal chicken or turkey and bacon omelets. like this meal before fasting for the day.

A general manager frantically took orders outside with pen and paper in an effort to ensure that everyone could be served before dawn. Some, finding no available tables, ate from Styrofoam containers while sitting on the sidewalk. The hustle and bustle this year made one thing clear to Ashraf, who is Muslim: his annual Ramadan-only halal menu should remain, all year round.

“People are overwhelmed that they can go to an IHOP restaurant and eat halal food,” he said. “That’s 90% of the comments they make.”

Pork is not halal and other animals, such as chicken, beef, and lamb, must be slaughtered to certified halal standards such as human throat cutting. Ashraf has never had any interest in bacon, but has occupied his thoughts since 2008. That year, the IHOP affiliate decided it was time to serve his family and the needs of his community and sell bacon. Halal-certified turkey in its first restaurant during Islam holy month, which ended this year on May 1st. He says it took months for the IHOP corporate office to approve its sale at the Fullerton outpost, along with the option for halal sausage. (IHOP’s central offices did not respond to a request for comment for this story.)

A menu of halal specialties, or foods permitted by Islamic law, launched during Ramadan in 2009, and has also decided to open earlier for those wishing to dine before dawn. At first, business went slow: one or two tables ordered every morning before dawn, but the following Ramadan more guests arrived.

Ashraf’s halal IHOP menu became more popular before the pandemic when he and his team began offering a like this buffet to help feed guests before dawn. This year, in addition to resuming the buffet, they added a tent for outdoor seating and decided to run the restaurant for 24 hours during the last two weekends of Ramadan.

By 2022, word of mouth has helped the menu gain even more popularity, to the point that it has extended some of the items to its Tujunga location, which will now run them year-round as well. In Tujunga, they had guests driving from Modesto. In Fullerton, diners said they traveled from Victorville and Palm Springs.

The IHOP halal menu includes chicken and waffles, classic burger, Florentine tilapia, and pancake combo.

Some of the IHOP halal menu items include (clockwise from below): chicken and waffle, classic burger, Florentine tilapia, and the halal turkey bacon pancake combo.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

When the real estate agent-turned-restaurateur bought the Fullerton IHOP in 2006, he brought his meats purchased from Diamond Bar’s Aljibani Halal Meats and instructed his chefs on how to make them just for him and how to avoid cross-contamination with that. restaurant pork products; Both locations now maintain separate refrigerators, shelves, fryers and plates for halal meats and non-pork items.

Eventually his personal stash served his children during their visits, and then his friends.

“When they were younger, they used to go to restaurants with their friends, but their choices were limited,” Ashraf said. “’How come they can eat meat and I can’t?’ There were some halals [chain] restaurants in the past, but other than that, our choices would be Pakistani, Bengali or Iranian. When they came to IHOP they ate pancakes, waffles, vegetarian things. ”

He realized that there was more than immediate demand for the halal meat supply – there was an untapped market.

According to the Census Policy Advocacy Network, about 1 million Muslims live in California; Orange County Islamic Society is one of the largest Muslim community centers in the country.

Ashraf’s growth was largely possible through in-person marketing visits to local mosques, first in Orange County, now in Los Angeles, which were carried out primarily by its general manager: Mariana Macias. Raised as a Catholic, she began working with Ashraf in 2006 and claimed to be unaware of Islamic practice or halal requirements, but learned more when she left flyers advertising Fullerton IHOP halal meats in mosques and programs. for Muslim students.

Now, Macias said, he feels part of the community.

“At first the hardest part to do, as a non-Muslim person was going to a mosque, I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “You have to take off your shoes, you have to be covered with the abaya, some places are more severe; men and women go through a separate door. This was all new to me, but the whole Muslim community is so welcoming, even if you are a non-Muslim person. “

An overhead photo of dishes from the halal menu, including turkey bacon pancakes, grilled chicken sandwiches, and a burger.

Some of Ashraf’s Fullerton halal dishes may soon reach Tujunga, including the halal turkey bacon and beef burger patty.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Although Macias doesn’t practice Islam, he regularly orders halal menus, saying it tastes better, particularly chicken, which he loves in sandwich and buffalo form.

Also found at Dave’s Hot Chicken

Ashraf employees aren’t the only ones who prefer the taste of halal meat. Dave’s Hot Chicken has been selling halal chicken offerings since it launched as a pop-up in an East Hollywood parking lot in 2017. According to co-founder Arman Oganesyan, the religious practice didn’t motivate the decision: to Dave’s four founders, the halal offerings were simply a better product.

“We realized that any brand of halal was much better – the chicken would come out of the box much more tender, much juicier,” Oganesyan said. “We had a brine process and we had to do a lot less of our brine process because it was so easy to work with chicken.”

Dave’s currently operates more than 60 stores; by the end of the year they should have about 100; some are franchised, others are owned by the company and all are halal certified. While halal chicken is slightly more expensive – about 10 cents more per pound for Dave’s – the founders believe that both the flavor and the opportunity to reach a larger market, halal diners, are worth more than the cost.

“The feedback is always very good, and it’s a little surprising to us that more people aren’t using halal,” Oganesyan said. “It’s not hard to get.”

Perhaps, he said, this is just the beginning. Ashraf said he hopes so too, but acknowledges it has been a long way to get here.

“Being a Muslim, I understand the concept and pushed for it,” Ashraf said. “Other people won’t have the patience for it; if you’re not passionate about it, how long will you fight for it? I’ve been trying since 2008 “.

Ashraf hopes to add new certified items to both of its restaurants in an effort to provide the same convenience for customers who eat halal foods as those who don’t.