LA-style street food offers lucrative opportunity for California natives

Although they lived most of their lives in Los Angeles, brothers Nour and Malak Mazeh, owners of Hali Boyz Mexican-American Grille, knew Buffalo pretty well. In fact, they lived here for a year, from 2013 to 2014, working on various business ventures. Before then, they had been to the area to visit their eldest brother, who owned a business in Lackawanna and whose wife was a Buffalo native.

But homesickness drew them back Los Angeles. “L.A.’s a beautiful place,” said Nour, the younger of the two brothers, “and we missed it. It’s our home.”

However, the lure of opportunity brought them back to Buffalo.

“We said to ourselves that we should move back to Buffalo and open a business,” explained Nour. “They really don’t have any Mexican food over there. And that’s the thing, we saw it as a big market to establish real, authentic, Los Angeles-style street food.”

Being half-Mexican—their mother was born in Mexico—and growing up in Southern California, authenticity matters to the brothers, and they view it as something that sets them apart from other Mexican restaurants in the area. And while less obvious at first glance, their Lebanese Muslim heritage is reflected in their decision to offer only halal (the ‘Hali’ in Hali Boyz) food. All their ingredients conform to Islamic dietary laws, including the meat that’s ritually slaughtered. While some patrons might miss Mexican restaurant staples like pork tacos, the use of halal meat still has a special draw for non-Muslims. “They enjoy it because it’s organic, and we definitely run with that,” noted Nour.

In addition to knowing the area and its competitive landscape, the Mazeh brothers had other advantages when setting up shop in Buffalo. A local doctor, whom they befriended during the two years they lived in Buffalo, stepped in as a partner and invested in the business.

“He’s been a friend of ours four or five years. It’s a venture he wanted to join with us,” said Nour. “Our craft is a very good craft, and he knows us. He knows we don’t mess around when it comes to food.”

The only major obstacle to getting Hali Boyz started was getting the location itself ready. The building, on the corner of Amherst and Grant streets, was old, and its interior had to be completely redone, from the ventilation to the electrical systems, which delayed the restaurant's opening by four months. For driven entrepreneurs like the Mazeh brothers, the additional time felt like a frustrating eternity.

Despite this initial hiccup, things have only been looking up for the restaurant. Local reception to Hali Boyz’s offerings has been positive, and they’re already planning a second location in Buffalo in Elmwood Village. Just nine months in, they’ve even had offers to buy the restaurant, said Nour, which they have seriously considered.

“We’re business people—that’s how we roll. We love Hali Boyz, but me and my brothers, we love always doing a new thing,” Nour explained. “But we’ve decided that it wasn’t the time. It still isn’t the right time, but at the right price we might.”

Even before the offers for buy-outs and the critical acclaim they’ve received, the brothers were confident they had the know-how to make the business succeed from day one.

“We know how to connect with our customers on a food level and talk to them as well,” said Nour.

So strong was their faith in their skill and their food that the brothers chose not to advertise or use the internet to promote their business. Rather, they relied on word-of-mouth, because they believe Western New Yorkers “trust that better than ... billboards and commercials." The brothers believe that they have earned their customers' trust. "It’s why we feel we’re successful,” said Nour.

While the Elmwood location marks the short-term future for the business, the brothers have even bigger plans for Hali Boyz. They’re hoping to be the first halal chain, with two more locations in Buffalo. Beyond the Queen City, they hope to open up restaurants in Batavia, Rochester, Syracuse, and New York City.

But for now, they are happy with their current location. “This area that we chose here is up and coming,” Nour said, “and we think it’s going to be a great place here along Amherst Street.”

Read more articles by Allan Mendoza.

Allan is a writer, editor, and digital marketer. Prior to moving to Buffalo, he worked for various marketing agencies, nonprofits, and tech startups in the New York City. He also currently serves as managing editor for Karibu News, a free biweekly that covers immigrant and refugee issues in the region. An avid outdoorsman, he spends his weekends either hiking or cycling and, in 2013, hiked the entirety of the 2000-mile Appalachian Trail.
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