7 years ago, there was no halal food blog for Muslims in the UK.
And with a growing population, many of whom have increasing disposable incomes, there was a clear void online for Muslims who were searching for halal food recommendations, but found practically nothing helpful.
Layla Hassanali, a then university student studying economics at City University, wanted to help her community.
So HalalGirlAboutTown.com was born.
7 years on, and many of us are in debt to her.
Over the years, Layla (pronounced Lyla) has been travelling up and down the country, and even globetrotting, to find the very best restaurants for Muslims, leaving honest, in-depth reviews wherever she goes.
I’m sure I’m not the only married Muslim who has been bailed out by her website whenever we’ve needed a recommendation to take out our better half.
But even Layla never predicted her blog to grow this big. In fact, her blog shows no signs of slowing down – over the past 12 months, her blog has grown in traffic by 450%.
With over 31,000 unique visitors, people right across the world find her blog an invaluable resource for all things food and travel.
What most astonished me in a recent conversation I had with Layla was that restaurant owners tell her that her review on her website has single handedly kept their business afloat. Which is an incredible feat – for a restaurant to be struggling to survive and see such a huge uptake in customers following their food being reviewed is awesome!
Naturally, over the past 15 months, things have slowed down a little for Halal Girl, now being a new mother and having new responsibilities. I caught up with the Layla recently to ask about her journey, motherhood and plans for the future.
Hundreds of thousands of people have benefitted from your blog over the past 7 years. Did you ever expect it to grow this big?
I never imagined it to grow this big – I still remember getting excited when seeing I had two views a day on my website (both from my mum!).
What inspired you to keep going on with Halal Girl About Town all of these years, when many people give up on their hobbies?
I’ve loved the idea that this platform has been useful to so many different people, from an individual trying to find the most romantic halal restaurant to propose in to a Christian wanting to find halal options for her Muslim partner, HGAT has really helped many people out. And of course, I love my food !
What difficulties have you faced along the way?
Naturally, being a Muslim platform hasn’t been easy due to Islamaphobia, bad press, and generally misinformation when it comes to halal. Hateful comments and emails still pop up here and there! Secondly, the change in social media and how it became a competition to get the most number of likes/followers/grammable photo as opposed to posting authentic content. Thankfully, I managed to steer HGAT through this by remaining impartial on every post, even the ads!
What are your 3 all time favourite restaurants?
The Ledbury, a two Michelin starred restaurant in London, when they served halal.
CUT is a fantastic steakhouse in London and Dubai and serve the best steaks I have had the pleasure of eating !
Cona, in Bradford, is the UK’s first halal fine dining restaurant and their beef Wellington holds a special place in my heart.
What type of feedback have you got from restaurant owners about their business after visiting them?
Generally, the feedback has been positive. The owners have seen a significant increase in number of customers that visit their establishment as well as ordering the same dishes I have written about. For the restaurants that did not receive such a rave review, they are grateful for the constructive criticism and have taken the comments on board.
How do you manage being a mother while also running Halal Girl?
It certainly hasn’t been easy, especially working from home, but by putting the both of us in a rigid routine, I make the most of any free time I have in the day – every minute counts! I’ve also got a great support network of my parents, husband, and friends who have always supported me.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Knowing that my platform is a useful resource for both Muslim and non-Muslims around the world.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m currently expanding the HGAT platform to include more halal travel guides, lifestyle articles, parenting tips, and more. And don’t you worry, there most definitely will be an app so watch this space.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting a passion and want to turn it into a career?
Make sure you’re starting it for the right reasons! I’ve seen so many halal food pages start and fail because of the expectation of free meals and popularity, instead of actually wanting to help Muslims out. The second tip would be to just keep going. It’s incredibly easy to fall out rhythm but super hard to get back into it. And finally, do not compare yourself to anyone. It’s easy to sit there and envy your competition, but it is also unproductive !
Halal, or the Halal Economy, now refers to so much more than food, it’s a global industry worth $4 trillion, spanning industries like travel, cosmetics, media, fashion, finance – the global Muslim consumer spend is growing year on year.
While Halal Girl started off with just food, her plans are to also become more of a lifestyle blog, to provide an even richer resource for Muslims across the world.
I’m excited to see her go from strength to strength. Let’s see where her journey ends up.
Have you ever used Halal Girl’s blog?