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Jamal Rasoully, founder of The Halal Shack, shares his perspective on the future of a young company in a turbulent time as his team gets more focused on diversity, inclusion and social justice.

Stories from the front lines: The Halal Shack founder pushes ahead with new college and university locations

SUNY-alum-turned-restaurateur Jamal Rasoully on reopening plans, decision-making, second-guessing and ‘being comfortable with being uncomfortable.’

Jamal Rasoully, founder of The Halal Shack, a fast-casual, NYC-style halal chicken concept, first tasted success at his alma mater, SUNY Albany, and then came fast growth and more college locations over the past three years. Even during the pandemic, it’s continued to grow, set to open (at reduced capacity) this fall at Morgan State University in Baltimore, making a total of nine college locations. The Halal Shack is a brightly branded, tech-savvy concept focusing on chicken with spicy sauce, served a few ways, including bowls.  

During what Rasoully calls a “roller coaster of a year” he’s experienced “some highs, some lows, I do not know what’s coming around the corner, but preparing for the best- or worst-case scenario and adjusting after or course correcting after each turn,” says Rasoully, who grew up in Queens and is a first-generation Afghan American. “But overall, I’m thankful to be in a position to be the person to help my organization get through the toughest challenges its ever faced.”

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Here’s Rasoully’s story, as told to Tara Fitzpatrick on July 22, 2020.

“My planning ahead has been a lot of internal development within our organization. We turn three this August, so with our massive growth in such a short time, this time during the pandemic has allowed our teams to catch up and start to even get ahead with improvements and innovations. I’m really proud of our team, vendors and partners for the amazing work we were able to achieve and excited for the world to see it in the near future.

“Our plan for reopening is on a unit-by-unit basis, as no two campuses are actually opening the same way and it’s still changing. Ultimately, as an organization our No. 1 priority is safety. Our internal practices and partnerships reflect that, and we are blessed to have amazing partner organizations who have the same core beliefs as us.

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“My biggest challenge during all of this has been balancing the uncertainty with timelines for key decision-making. Luckily, we’re very nimble and agile, which has made it easier. But the impact of some decisions when faced with uncertainty makes you second-guess a lot of things.

“Silver linings have been innovations, improvements, internal developments and a serious look at what more can we do to make the world a better place. Social responsibility was one of the reasons I started The Halal Shack; the impact a brand can have is tremendous. We are even more focused and are developing more programs to help support our core beliefs of diversity, inclusion and social justice.

“I love what I do, although the challenges we are being faced with are puzzling at times and can leave you feeling helpless, it’s nowhere I haven’t been before from a business and personal sense. I grew up in Queens, N.Y., as a first-generation Afghan American. I watched my father work 16-hour days my entire life. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is an essential trait every leader needs to embody.

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“What keeps me sane and positive is remembering that and also understanding the reality that there’s more to life. Really the most important thing right now is the safety of yourself and others. Doing your part is important. I’ve also been spending a lot of time working out at home.

“One of the most important things that I want to share is my gratitude to all our employees, partners and vendors. Teamwork really makes the dream work, and if it wasn’t for everyone’s patience, empathy and will to persevere, I do not think our organization would be where it is at all.”

Contact Tara at [email protected].

Follow her on Twitter @Tara_Fitzie.

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