Burgers, fries and shakes were on the menu, but this was not the typical classic American burger. My CWS colleagues and I sat down for a tasty lunch at Route 66 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a small restaurant run by immigrants and made appearance on Yelp’s “Top Cheeseburger in Every State.”. I admit it was a top. The halal cheeseburger I had was one of the tastiest burgers in my memory. The owners of Route 66 are a couple from Bahrain. The door opened with visitors who were either taking their meal home and some who were ordering to eat there. It was packed and busy, and the employees including the owner were busy making burgers.
Owner Mujtaba “Mash” Mahmood joined my CWS colleagues at our table to chat with us about his business. Mahmood, his wife and their four kids moved into Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 2014 still pursuing his American dream of running a business that newer and native-born Americans will like. “I called this place Route 66, that American theme, the 50s and the cars, this was my interest.” Mahmood said.” While he and his wife were able to make food that is traditional from their countries of origin, they decided burgers are also what immigrants might like for lunch and dinner. Some of Route 66 customers are newly arrived Afghans most of whom felt difficult adjusting to the food they had eaten since leaving Afghanistan. Halal food was much needed even better when it was a burger.
Before Route 66 opened, people in the city did not have many choices for halal meat. Sometimes it took an hour to drive to get halal food. When Route 66 brought Halal burgers, people who are Muslims and those who are not both felt the need for this business. “We specifically selected halal for the quality of the meat. Now we have all kinds of people even from outside of Lancaster who visit us and enjoy our halal burgers.” added Mahmood.
When Route 66 opened in Lancaster, one of the first things they were interested in doing was connecting to the diverse communities around Lancaster. “When the fall of Kabul happened and organizations such as Church World Service were working on resettling the Afghans, I thought we could take part by providing the newly arrived with halal meal.” Route 66 provided gift cards and took part in the welcome meals for CWS’s newly resettled Afghans.
Our Afghan clients, those in Lancaster and others who are now outside of Lancaster, often come to Route 66 for the good halal food and chat with the friendly employees and owners. Friday afternoon after Friday prayers is the busiest time since many Muslim communities prefer to celebrate with their beloved ones and friends on the occasion of the prayers.