Opening a new restaurant in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic is not an ideal way to break into a new market, with sales limited to takeout and delivery and customers prohibited from eating inside the restaurant.
But that’s what Shah’s Halal Food has done on Route 58.
And company president Khalid Mashrigi says it’s working out pretty nicely.
“We actually opened on May 1, and we did a grand opening on May 8,” he said. “We were going to open up in April, but we were afraid that with COVID-19 going around, we didn’t want to put anyone in danger. So we waited a little bit until we got a little comfortable that we could prevent people from being in danger and at the same time have them enjoy the food and the store.”
Shah’s Halal has been doing business through takeout orders, online ordering and deliveries in partnership with DoorDash and GrubHub.
“The response has been really overwhelming for us,” Mr. Mashrigi said. “The love that we’re getting in Riverhead has been really enormous. We really appreciate that. The customers are very loyal and they’re happy that we’re here and vice versa. We are happy that we are there.”
Shah’s Halal is a family-run business that started out in Richmond Hill, Queens, with one food cart in 2005. The food they sold catered to the American market, but was based on old family recipes from their native Afghanistan, Mr. Mashrigi said. “It’s street food, but with our flavors.”
Initially, they were selling their product to other vendors.
But then they branched out, selling their own food, increasing the number of carts they had and eventually getting a truck.
They were then offered a chance to open their first restaurant at Queens College.
“The college approached us because they kept seeing our bags all over campus,” Mr. Mashrigi said. “So they offered us a space in the college.”
Their first business outside the college was in Hicksville, where the town received complaints from other restaurants and told them they couldn’t have the food cart.
“So we scrambled and tried to get into a store location. There was a Chinese place that had just gone out of business and we checked it out. We converted it into a store in three weeks, and that was our first store outside of Queens College,” Mr. Mashrigi said.
Shah’s Halal now has about 37 locations, including about 18 stores with three more on the way. Fifteen of the 18 stores are on Long Island.
Prior to opening the Riverhead location, the easternmost Shah’s was in Selden. That was one of their busiest outlets because there weren’t a lot of options east of that, Mr. Mashrigi said.
Shah’s Halal Food replaced Sabrosa Mexican Grill in the Dick’s Sporting Goods shopping plaza on Route 58. It is located next to Buffalo Wild Wings.
The Riverhead store offers a full menu with platters, gyros, salads and sandwiches. They also have cheeseburgers, Philly cheesesteaks and chicken sandwiches.
“People were really anticipating us opening, so we promoted it a month ahead of time,” he said. “It was a very good opening, even with COVID going on, and we’re doing a pretty good job with just takeout and deliveries.”