Canton, MI—For a food festival, running out of eats isn’t part of the plan. However, when that scenario played out last year during the first annual Halal Fest Michigan, festival organizer Mostansar Virk took it as a sign of success.
“We were actually only expecting about 1,500 people but approximately 4,500 showed up,” said Virk, chief executive officer and founder of Halal Fest Michigan. “It was a huge hit. I was completely shocked at how many people showed up.”
The festival was staged at Heritage Park Amphitheater Pavilion in Canton, Mich., an area which boasts one of the largest Muslim communities in the country. The 2015 event, which is set for Saturday, Aug. 8 from noon-7 p.m., will be held at the same venue.
And now with this year’s event right around the corner and already buzzing with lots of online interest and robust advance tickets sales, Virk is making sure the upcoming festival doesn’t feature a repeat performance.
“Last year we had around 11 food vendors who came and we ended up running out of food around 6 p.m., but this year we have around 20 or so who will participate and we’ve asked all of them to make sure they make food for about 800 people,” he said. “We want to make sure that we have enough food for everybody and that it’s amazing food, as well. Nobody should go home hungry.”
Virk, a Michigan-based entrepreneur, said he came up with idea to hold a halal food festival after hearing disparaging remarks about halal food on the news.
“Two years ago there were people on TV speaking really awfully about halal food, saying that’s it’s foreign to America and something we shouldn’t have here,” he said. “I took that to heart because I eat halal food and I have children who eat halal food. In that moment I knew that if we have people speaking ill about halal food then I though I’ll have a halal food festival and be open with it and I’ll invite everyone and we’ll see how it goes. And it was amazing.”
In retrospect, Virk said the festival’s success shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise. Food has long been a way to bridge cultures and to bring people together, which are two important reasons Virk created Halal Fest Michigan in the first place.
“I wanted to showcase Muslims and show people that we’re not all Arabs or Africans and we’re not all about war and terrorism. Muslims are everybody,” he said. “Food makes it sort of easy to have that conversation.”
And while there is a religious aspect to the festival, it is halal food after all, Virk said the event welcomed non-Muslims and there was no pressure to discuss Islam.
“You don’t have to have a conversation about Islam if you’re eating together, you can just enjoy the food,” he said. “I just wanted people to sit down together and have conversations they wouldn’t have had otherwise with people they might not have met otherwise.”
And come they did, enjoying the wide variety of ethnic and American-style food till the last bite was gone.
“Food is a huge aspect of our culture and we had so many varieties to choose from like Indian, African, Middle Eastern, Asian. We had halal American food, as well, like halal subs and chicken wings.”
Though halal food was the festival’s star attraction, Virk said there were plenty of family-friendly activities to keep the little ones busy when they weren’t sampling all the savory dishes. Children enjoyed carnival rides, face painting, henna art and more.
Now, with his attention turned to Halal Fest Michigan 2015, Virk promises a “bigger and better” event and encourages all those who can attend to make plans to come out and enjoy some delicious halal food.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.halalfestmichigan.com. Tickets are $5 per person and children under 7 are free. A family of five entry fee is $15, however this discount is only available online.
Full-price admission can be purchased at the door on the day of the event.