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Meet Yosof Hakimi, the British Columbia Halal Food Festival Organizer
On June 25th, 2022, Surrey hosted British Columbia’s very first Halal Food Festival. With over 30 food and drink vendors, the Surrey Civic Plaza was buzzing with approximately 20,000 attendees throughout the day. Although many of the visitors were from the Lower Mainland, this momentous event also attracted numerous individuals from neighbouring cities, including Victoria, Calgary, Seattle - and even as far as Toronto. This festival was the product of months of careful planning, such as coordinating with the City of Surrey, recruiting food and drink vendors, and marketing the event to the general public. We wanted to learn more about the inspiration behind B.C.’s much awaited first Halal Food Festival, so we reached out to the main event organizer, Yosof Hakimi.
Yosof Hakimi is a business student at Simon Fraser University and owner of Digital Egg, a digital marketing agency that helps businesses grow using digital media. Originally from Toronto, Yosof was inspired by the access to Halal food and community in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). More recently there have been a variety of Halal food events in the GTA, such as Halal Food Night Markets and Halal Food Festivals. This made Yosof think, why isn’t Halal food normalised in the Lower Mainland? Why don’t we have the same access to Halal options? While Yosof admits that more Halal options have been emerging in recent years, he claims that “we are still miles away from places like Toronto, London, even California”. The paucity of Halal food events in the Lower Mainland vis-à-vis other metropolitan areas “is pretty much where the inspiration kind of sparked [for the Halal Food Festival]”, says Yosof.
At Digital Egg, many of Yosof’s clients are Halal restaurants based in the Lower Mainland. During COVID he worked with them to build their social media presence and develop their marketing strategies to attract customers. He saw them struggle through the pandemic and wanted to provide the restaurants a platform to engage with the community. In addition, Yosof also noted that introducing Halal restaurants through a Halal Food festival would significantly benefit Muslim newcomers, stating “[Muslim newcomers] don't know local Halal places that they can trust…and are unsure of what's actually Halal. So this event was a great platform to identify and see first-hand that these are Halal food establishments in their neighbourhood to support.”
The Lower Mainland has a significant Muslim population, but very few restaurants and food festivals cater to Halal dietary restrictions. Yosof wanted to bring awareness regarding the substantial demand for Halal food, noting there is a “big untapped market here in British Columbia.” He says, “this was [also] a message to non-Muslims; by opening up your menu to the Muslim community you can gain a lot of business. And I think that was a huge success.” A testament to his success was a turnout of 20,000 attendees in one day and a request from the Muslim community for future Halal events.
Along with the Muslim community, the Halal Food Festival was also well received by the City of Surrey. According to Yosof, the City was “amazed and shocked by how well the first event went”, wishing more events in Surrey were of similar calibre. Furthermore, non-Muslim businesses were also supportive of the event, such as Biryani Chef, as they changed their meat supplier to cater to Muslims.
Although the Halal Food Festival was an enormous success, Yosof faced numerous doubts and challenges along the way. He confesses, “there were points where it was difficult to manage and organize the festival where I was like, do I really want to still continue with this? Do I still want to take this risk? ... [and] in the beginning, some people didn’t believe in the vision too much”. However, he says that the support from the community motivated him to ignore the negativity and proceed with his plans.
It all came together for Yosof the day of the event. He says, “exactly 10 minutes before the event, everything just hit me right there. I just saw everything and it was super emotional for me to see it all come together. I think that was the pinnacle moment for me where I was like, OK, everything was worth it.”
Overall, the Halal Food Festival was a monumental event in the Lower Mainland. The euphoric response from the community demonstrated the need for similar events. As such, Yosof has already begun to plan future Halal food events to address the growing interest and generate awareness about Halal food. Stay tuned for future Halal events hosted in the Lower Mainland!