Abdul Jalil and Galal Hassanien, co-owners of the new Halal Meat and Grocery opening in downtown Ithaca, hope to fill a void in the Ithaca Muslim community while also fulfilling their appetites.
The store is the first of its kind in the area, according to Yasin Ahmed, Cornell’s Muslim chaplain, and features halal meats and international foods.
“This will be the first time in Ithaca history to have halal meat sold out of a store here,” Ahmed said.
When co-owner Jalil moved to Ithaca with his family in 2005, he struggled to find food that would accommodate his religious diet. Jalil recalled giving meat from his own freezer to a family friend who had a baby on the way.
He and others have been bringing meat back from other cities for the rest of the Muslim community, but the demand was too high.
“[The halal meat is] gone by one day,” he said. “They need meat, but they cannot eat from Walmart, Target, Wegmans.”
According to Ahmed, halal meat must follow specific guidelines for raising, slaughter and preparation in accordance with Islamic laws. Ithacans who eat halal often have to travel to Binghamton, Syracuse and New York City to find meat that meets their religious standards.
Halal Meat and Grocery will be stocked with certified halal meats and other traditional foods largely sourced from suppliers in New York City.
Jalil hopes to offer a variety of Asian and Arabic foods tailored for the Ithaca community including Chinese vegetables, Egyptian rice and Indonesian fish, as well as American cereals. He also said he would be willing to deliver to people who could not visit the store, such as students.
Jalil’s store was one of five winners in the Race for the Space competition held by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance last year. The competition required local businesses to submit proposals in a bid to win a plot of land and cash reward to help jumpstart the business.
“As we looked at the business plan, and studied the opportunity, it really came out as one of the stronger businesses,” Gary Ferguson, executive director of Downtown Ithaca Alliance, told The Sun.
The competition granted Halal Meat and Grocery the 800-square-foot location rent-free for one year. According to Jalil, he has already invested $30,000 into the business.
John Guttridge, developer of the location, said that Halal Meat and Grocery was chosen because they filled a niche market.
“The hope is they will bring a constituency that is underrepresented in downtown out in force,” said Guttridge, “We felt very strongly that in the current political climate, we wanted to make a statement that Muslims are welcomed here. It was a powerful and positive statement to make.”
“Having access to more Halal food in Ithaca will just make practicing our faith easier here so it’s something many of us are excited about,” Yahya Abdul-Basser ’20, president of the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association, told The Sun in an email.
Ahmed said the store will be able to provide more options for students and allow them to have catered events, and even has the potential to attract professionals to Ithaca.
“That’s one of the first things people ask about, is ‘can I eat here?’” Ahmed said.
“This is one of the ways to make people feel like this is their home,” Jalil said. “It’s not only profit. It’s also for service to the Ithaca Muslim community.”
Halal Meat and Grocery plans to open at 110 West Green St. on Friday.