Halal Guys to replace recently closed Downtown Berkeley restaurant

Kore Chan/Senior Staff

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Le Regal, a Vietnamese restaurant in Downtown Berkeley, closed last week, and the Halal Guys, a budding Middle Eastern food franchise, will be opening its first Bay Area location in the now-vacant space.

The Vietnamese restaurant had mixed reviews on Yelp, some praising its pho as the best in Berkeley and others complaining of slow service and a dirty atmosphere.

“I am definitely not surprised Le Regal is closing its doors,” said former customer Tashnia Hossain in an email. “During lunch hour, every restaurant (on Center Street) is packed full of people, except Le Regal.”

According to Dani Stewart, manager of neighboring restaurant SliderBar, Le Regal was entirely family run and the owners “seemed tired” and ready to retire.

The Halal Guys began as a food cart in New York City in 1990 and has expanded to seven New York locations. The brand is currently franchising worldwide, developing more than 200 locations in areas including Washington D.C., California and the Philippines. While many of its original customers were Muslim taxi drivers, the brand’s customers have diversified since then, according to its website.

Fransmart, a franchise developer, has signed a deal with the Halal Guys to help grow its brand. The Halal Guys ranked in the top 10 of the most Yelp-reviewed eateries in the United States in 2013. The franchise attributes its success partly to its dedication to customers.

Manager of neighboring Mediterranean restaurant Oasis Grill Rami Abuar said he thinks both the catering and high-quality ingredients of Oasis Grill will keep it competitive with the Halal Guys’ similar menu and lower prices.

The Halal Guys serves Middle Eastern food, including gyro meat platters, chicken shawarma and its famous “white sauce.” All the foods served are certified halal, meaning they strictly adhere to Islamic guidelines of food preparation. Additionally, the Halal Guys serves humanely raised livestock and high-quality ingredients, according to its website.

Rene Hjorth, director of operations of the franchise’s Berkeley location, said that in addition to the focus that the restaurant as a whole has on quality and sustainable ingredients, the developers are trying to develop the new location as sustainably as possible through the use of greener appliances, such as low-flush toilets and LED lighting.

The storefront is located across the street from the future location of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, about a two-minute walk from the Downtown Berkeley BART station and a block away from campus, making it a popular spot for foot traffic, according to Hjorth.

“The location that’s available … is a unique opportunity to reach a large crowd in the Berkeley area as well as the campus community, and we see (the restaurant) as being a good fit for both,” Hjorth said.

Contact Pressly Pratt at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @prezzliray.