A lot of halal cart owners worked for restaurants or other food carts before they opened their own food cart business, which was how they gained their experiences with halal food, and connections with suppliers who supplied the meat. In an interview with Mohammed Wasifi (everyone refers to him as “Tony”), the owner of Tony’s Halal Truck near Lehman College in the Bronx, he explained that he chose halal food over other types of food trucks because he was Muslim himself, and he felt “more comfortable cooking food that is closer to his own culture“.
For the owners who owns only one or two carts, the halal cart business can be referred to somewhat as a “family business”, as the owners often have a close relationship with their workers. In an interview with Tony, he said that he and his worker had work together ever since his Halal cart business started, and they had set up a rule so that at least one of them would remain inside the cart at all times; and in an interview with the workers at Habibi’s Halal Cart near Baruch college, the workers there told us that he is actually the cousin of the owner, who works in the other Halal cart that he owns. However, in the case of halal cart owners who own multiple halal carts, they are extremely hard to locate and most of their workers don’t even have contact informations with their boss. Most of these halal carts would hire one worker who works the entire day, and then the owners would usually appear at their carts early in the morning, or late at night, to deliver the cart at its location and pick up the cart after a day of work.
Tony also described his relationship with the customers by emphasizing “You take care of me. I’ll take care of you.” The regular customers at Tony’s Halal Truck are students from Lehman College, the Bronx High School of Science, and High School of American Studies. Tony decided to set his price of a platter at $5 because he wanted to make it more affordable to the students around, since a lot of the students from schools nearby would walk for a short distance (even in the cold winter) for his food. During the interview, a student from a nearby school asked Tony for a platter of chicken over rice. He told Tony that he did not have enough money for the food, but he was extremely hungry. Without thinking, Tony gave the student the platter, and told the student to pay him back the next time he visits, and stated “I would never leave a student hungry.” The relationship between Tony and his customers (students) is further emphasized by his many pictures with the students that are posted on his halal cart. In the interview, Tony indicated that he usually gets his meat from a halal garage in Jamaica, because he trusted the garage and the quality of meat that they give. He told me that he really cared about the taste and the quality of the meat. One time, after Tony got the meat from a different garage, a student told him that the meat did not taste as good as it used to be. Because of that, Tony stopped getting supplies from that garage and looked for his meats elsewhere, just so that he can give the best quality food to his loyal customers. When I asked Tony about his relationship with other halal cart owners, he said that he had a lot of friends who also operates at a halal cart, and he is having plans to see whether or not he can work with some of them to open his second halal cart. However, he also express that he is not fond of some of the halal carts because he found their design unsanitary.
The designs of halal carts can be divided into two major categories. The first design is a more open design in which the workers operate outside the cart, and the customers can stand next to the meat and watch as the meat is cooked. In the second design, the cooking takes place inside the food cart and sometimes the food is stored in boxes and kept away from the grill. For some owners, they prefer the second design much more because it is more sanitary. The meat quality and taste would not be affected by dust or other things that can be blow into the grill by wind. In addition, some halal cart owners would place colorful designs on their carts to make their carts stand out in public, rather than just another regular food cart with aluminum boards showing on the outside.