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Inaugural Chicago Halal Festival Expects 20,000 People at Navy Pier

I Heart Halal wants to show Chicago restaurants there’s a demand for halal food

Chicago organizers want to duplicate the success of the long-running London Muslim LIfestyle Show.
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The organizers of the inaugural I Heart Halal Festival expect 20,000 people to attend the three-day event slated for April at Chicago’s Navy Pier. The expo, which will spotlight Halal food, fashion, and other products, is billed as the first of its kind in America. It’s modeled after the long-running London Muslim Lifestyle Show.

The event, April 13 to 15, will feature 20 to 25 local food vendors, giving the festival a Taste of Chicago feel with halal food. Organizers aren’t ready to name participants, but they want diversity. They’ll have more than shawarma and South Asian food. Research has showed that halal food consumers want burgers, pizzas, and hot dogs, too. The festival is hopeful to attract non-halal restaurants to “go halal for the weekend.” By showing the public how easy it is to use halal products, they hope to encourage more restaurants to offer halal food. Locally, Epic Burger has embraced the strategy as the Chicago chain serves halal burgers.

“The Muslim consumer in North America today is like every other person,” said Asma Ahad, one of the event’s board of directors. “They want everything; they’re not limited to traditional ethnic cuisine.”

Likewise, restaurant supply chain is ready to meet the demand for more halal food in America, said Ahad. The event will draw various companies who hope to establish relationships with restaurants and food service companies such as Aramark. Halal meat is slaughtered in a particularly way, in accordance to Muslim beliefs. It also can’t come from a forbidden animal (no pork).

Ahad points out that many colleges, including the University of Chicago and University of Illinois, have halal food counters that are popular with Muslims and non-Muslims. New York’s popular Halal Guys picked Chicago as its first market outside of The Big Apple to serve gyros.

“Our target audience is the millennial population who’s really open to learning and experiencing new things,” she said.

Likewise, international travelers have seen American fast--food chains, like KFC, offer halal options. However, the chain is gun shy on declaring they have halal options stateside. The festival will hopefully encourage transparency in labeling: many restaurants already serve halal products but won’t label them, Ahad said.

Originally, the event was to take place in November in suburban Schaumburg, but Salman Chaudry, also an event board member, said Navy Pier and downtown Chicago are bigger draws. The Chicago area has a large, diverse group of Muslims including Hispanics, Arabs, Eastern Europeans, African Americans, and South Asians.

Chaudry called halal food “the next evolution” for anyone interested in organic foods and cleaner living. I Heart Halal will raise awareness by connecting customers to suppliers.

“We’re hoping that after the restaurants see the huge demand for halal that they’ll think, ‘why not switch?’” he said.

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