By Bill Parry
For nearly two decades, students at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City have been lining up for affordable meals of chicken and gyro over rice at the Halal Guys food cart on Thomson Avenue. Last week, the street-food vendors celebrated their phenomenal growth in the last few years with a $30,000 gift to the school’s scholarship fund.
Three immigrants from Egypt opened a Midtown Manhattan hot dog cart in 1990 and switched to Middle Eastern halal food to feed Muslim cab drivers. They have grown to five carts and two restaurants in the city and 10 franchise restaurants nationwide with plans to open 335 franchise locations around the world.
A friendship between a faculty member and Hesham Hegazy, the Halal Guys’ director of business and brand development, spurred their support of the college with a gift of $6,000 in 2013. Last year, Halal Guys upped its donation to $7,000 to the LaGuardia Community College Fund.
“When my friend, engineering professor Yasser Hassebo, told me about the students in his classes who were working very hard to excel in their studies, while struggling to make ends meet and also balancing work with family obligations, I was moved to help out,” Hegazy said. “LaGuardia Community College students, faculty and staff have been loyal supporters of our food cart on their campus, and so it felt right to give back by establishing the Halal Guys Scholarship Fund.”
LaGuardia Community College has one of the most ethnically diverse campuses in the nation with more than 50,000 students, two-thirds of whom are now new Americans. The students face a unique challenge in that the majority have family incomes of less than $25,000 a year.
The Halal Guys Scholarship Fund gives full-time students in good academic standing $1,000 for two semesters of study. Thus far, their support has gone to more than eight LaGuardia students.
“The Halal Guys scholarship allowed me to complete my final semester at LaGuardia,” graduate Adeline Romero said. “The Halal Guys scholarship lightened my financial burden and allowed me to focus on my last class load. The generosity extended to me by the Halal Guys and LaGuardia has inspired me to give back to the community. I hope to pay it forward one day and help other students achieve their goals.”
Romero graduated with a 3.85 GPA and is now studying political science at John Jay, with plans to pursue a career in public policy and advocacy. “The Halal Guys are the very best friends our college can have,” LaGuardia Community College President Gail O. Mellow said. “They have been unwavering in their support of our students.”
Mohamed Abouelenein, the company’s president and co-founder, sent three of his children to the school.
“All had excellent experiences—they enjoyed their time here and were very well prepared for the next chapters of their education—transferring to four-year schools,” Abouelenein said. “I know the value of this college firsthand, and so I’m very pleased that we’re able to support it with this scholarship fund.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr