Demand for halal meat on a rise in southwestern Ontario

Several London business owners have noticed an increase in demand for halal meat in southwestern Ontario and are moving to change menus

After 60 years, one iconic London restaurant is stocking the kitchen with halal meat

Gus Economopolos is the co-owner of Richies Family Restaurant, which started serving halal meat after a slew of requests during Ramadan. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Richies Family Restaurant – a fixture along Richmond Street and in the heart of the Masonville area – has brought families and friends together over home-style meal for six decades.

However, the staple menu featuring hot roast beef sandwiches and traditional turkey dinners could be getting a meaty makeover.

"I'm not Muslim myself but it's a family restaurant and we have to cater to our customers," said co-owner Gus Economopolos, who began offering halal meat following a slew of requests during Ramadan this year, a month-long religious observation followed by London's growing Muslim community.

"The meat is more tender and better," he said, adding that he now also eats halal. "I don't know the procedure of how they're doing it but I see it as very tasty."

The demand for Halal meat continues to increase for London store owners and southwestern Ontario abattoirs. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

What is halal

Yaser Alqayem is very familiar with the Islamic processing practice.

In fact, the president of Parkhill Meats re-stocks Richies' fridges weekly with fresh cut meats from southwestern Ontario's exclusively halal abattoir located north of London.

"According to Islamic rules, (the) animal should be slaughtered in a way that will eliminate or reduce the pain to the minimum," he said, of the unique practice that requires a religious blessing prior to processing the animal.

Alqayem has noticed a 60 per cent increase in demand this year alone with requests coming from across Ontario for beef, veal and lamb.

The butcher said he's partnered with about a dozen restaurants and meat vendors in the London area alone since opening his doors in 2015, with business on the rise in Windsor, Kitchener and the GTA.

The demand for Halal meat continues to increase for London store owners and southwestern Ontario abattoirs. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Demand across the province

The demand for halal meat has also doubled in the last five years for Ralph Bos Meats Ltd., one of about a dozen processing plants in southwestern Ontario certified to process the meat according to Islamic rules.  

"Our protocols are pretty much the exact same other than the fact that we aren't Muslim. That's all it boils down to," said co-owner Jason Bos of the Starthroy plant that introduced the practice 25 years ago.

A London city committee is currently reviewing a request for a halal-only abattoir in London, potentially making it the first slaughterhouse within city grounds.

Back at Richie's, co-owner Economopolos explains that if the demand for halal meat continues after Ramadan, he will make it a fixed item on its paper menu.