Meet the College Students Who Are Bringing a Beloved Restaurant to KC
Many entrepreneurs get their start by seeing a need and filling it. Others are just hungry to start something new. Osama Hanif embodies both.
This UMKC student’s newest venture is bringing The Halal Guys franchise to Kansas City. It started simply enough: Osama and his friend Ammar Qureshi were running low on time, looking for a place to eat.
“In Kansas City, there aren’t too many fast-casual places with good food to-go,” Osama says. “There are good franchises like Chipotle or Chick-fil-A, but you get tired of the same spots. Ammar and I were talking about it, and he said he wished we had The Halal Guys in KC. A lightbulb went off in my head! I’ve been a fan for years. We need to do this!”
But this is more than having a hankering. And Osama is more than a college student.
A legacy of entrepreneurship
In December 2021, Osama will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in finance from University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management. He worked at a bank for a while but realized the traditional 9-to-5 and working for someone else weren’t the best fit. It wasn’t a huge surprise – Osama has already had two businesses of his own. And he comes from a family of entrepreneurs.
“I’ve been surrounded by entrepreneurs my entire life,” Osama says. “My dad is an immigrant, our family friends are mainly immigrants, and I’ve seen them come here with almost nothing and build successful businesses. My thought process is that I don’t get to take their hard work for granted. Instead, it’s a driving force. My parents made a lot of sacrifices – I don’t get to be lazy.”
As a high school student in St. Joseph, Missouri, Osama started a clothing company with a friend.
“I was just a high school kid trying to make extra money,” he says. “I realized he was putting in more work than I was, and he was more passionate. That’s when I realized it’s OK to leave things if you don’t feel right about them. We were sharing profits, but he was putting more work into it. It wasn’t fair.”
Osama stepped away from that venture. But he started working with his dad, Mohammad, who operates gas stations. Osama soon saw opportunity.
“One of the biggest problems we face is finding suppliers and prices that help with our profitability,” he says. “I got tired of haggling with suppliers – I didn’t want to talk through these middle guys all the time. So, I got into contact with distributors. Now, we get 50% of our products straight from the distributors. My goal was to give customers the best prices possible, and we make a good profit, too.”
This business, Nexus Wholesale Imports, has been operating for about a year and a half. It’s given Osama first-hand experience that can’t come from a textbook, and it meant he was enthusiastic and ready when the idea of The Halal Guys popped up.
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Cuisine for underserved KC populations
Halal means food that’s permitted under Islamic law. Animal slaughter must be humane and include prayer.
“A lot of practicing Muslims don’t eat anything that isn’t halal certified,” Osama says. “Finding a place on the go that’s halal is tough.”
The Halal Guys started as a food cart in New York City. Its three Egyptian founders sold halal food to Muslim taxi drivers, who often had trouble finding authentic halal food. Now, The Halal Guys is a franchise-based restaurant chain that’s growing quickly across the U.S. Not only does the food meet unmet dietary needs, but it’s also popular with the larger population. And the restaurants are open late.
Several years ago, Osama discovered The Halal Guys via YouTube. He finally had the chance to try it a few years ago in Dallas – and loved it. So when Ammar pitched the idea of bringing the restaurant to KC, Osama was all in.
“We have to do it,” he says. “It’s one of those things where the mind and heart are in sync.”
Leadership, franchising and getting started
Osama’s head and heart were ready to go, but there was due diligence to be done. He talked to his dad, who got his business partners on board. Mohammad had had franchises in the past but didn’t have experience in the restaurant industry. But no one on the five-person team was afraid to learn.
“We did a lot of research,” Osama says. “We talked to franchisees, drove down to Dallas and explored Halal Guys locations down there and met with a really nice franchisee who gave us a lot of insight. That helped us solidify our plans.”
The team also did focused research on the Kansas City market. They talked to long-time residents and people looking for halal. They studied spending trends and visited with real estate agents who understand where people are living.
“We also looked at what’s been successful in major cities and are patterning it here,” Osama says. “What starts on the coasts comes to the Midwest. The Halal Guys have seen success in the east and south and we want to be a part of that.”
The team signed a multi-unit franchise deal. Right now, they’re finalizing their first location in the Westport or Crossroads area.
“Things might be moving a little slower because of COVID, and that’s OK, because we don’t want to be in a rush,” Osama says. “We’ve had the blessing of working in a quieter environment, so we’ve had time to get all the details down. We hope to be open by the end of the year.”
Next steps and entrepreneurial guidance
Osama plans to lean heavily on social media to get the word out about The Halal Guys. After all, that’s how he learned about the restaurant in the first place. The digital world is also where he’s doing research and getting inspiration.
“I listen to a lot of podcasts and read a lot of books,” Osama says. “It’s taught me that if you don’t know about something, bring in someone who does. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
He’s also quick to point out the role of other people in an entrepreneur’s orbit.
“If you look to your three or four closest friends, they say a lot about who you are,” Osama says. “We mimic other people and pick up their way of thinking. So it’s important to surround yourself with positive people. Everything could be crazy, and they’re like, ‘At least it’s sunny.’ Those are the type of people my dad and his friends are. At the end of the day, we’re alive and well and hopefully get to see tomorrow.”
Osama has a similarly sunny outlook on out-there entrepreneurial ideas.
“No idea is a bad idea. It just depends on how you execute it,” he says. “Don’t talk yourself out of things, and don’t be afraid of judgment or failure. See if it works out. And if it doesn’t, at least you know. You won’t say, ‘I should have.’”
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