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Zohra Khaku, Founder & Editor of Halal Gems

The halal food market is worth around £1bn a year in the UK alone. But it’s still not easy to find halal restaurants – something entrepreneur Zohra Khaku is aiming to change.

halal grilled chicken with sauce

Zohra Khaku

Zohra Khaku

It all started with a Groupon addiction, says Zohra Khaku (Cambridge MBA 2008). She was eager to take up the voucher company’s offers – but was never able to find out whether the participating restaurants served halal food.

“Halal restaurants is one of the areas where Google fails,” she points out. “You’ll come up with some bits and bobs if you search, for example, ‘Halal restaurant Mexican’. But you won’t find the best halal Mexican restaurants. Other sites fail as well, even TripAdvisor reviews. They don’t have a halal filter.”

So in September 2012 Khaku launched Halal Gems, a website dedicated to showcasing the very best halal restaurants. Now in its third year, what was once just a restaurant finder is also a digital magazine, as well as a burgeoning brand.

Good eating is a passion for Khaku, who graduated from Cambridge Judge Business School in 2010 with an MBA, and has had what she calls “a complicated career”. She studied maths and computer science at university and then spent a short time teaching. After that, she moved on to business consulting within the technology, media and entertainment sectors before taking the plunge and launching Halal Gems.

For her, the project’s ethos is not just about finding the right places, but about changing attitudes to halal food in general. “The thing that is driving me right now is changing the market,” she says. “I want to have halal food as a quality mark for really fantastic, organically reared, good for you, wholesome food. That’s not going to happen probably for another 20 or 30 years but I want Halal Gems to be part of that story. I’d really like to see people thinking and talking a lot more about what’s in their food than they were before.”

The first issue of the digital-only Halal Gems went live in October 2014, and reaction to it – plus a branding refresh for the restaurant finder – has been overwhelmingly positive. “One reader compared it to GQ, which to me is the benchmark,” says Khaku. “That’s where we want to be. We’re also responding to feedback. The magazine was available for tablet devices but people wanted to be able to read it on their phone, so we’ve done that, and that will see a big increase in numbers.”

With competitors now seeing the potential in the halal market, Khaku knows she faces a big challenge to make Halal Gems the number one destination for halal foodies. But she’s ready for it. “I view it as very healthy,” she says. “We’re unique. We’re celebrating the whole lifestyle. There are already lots of places out there that focus on what to make at home but we focus very much on eating out. Our market eats out a lot more than the average person, particularly in the UK, and it’s partly because if you’re not going to be drinking, your social life revolves around food. Nobody has a magazine like we do, and nobody’s looking at this cutting edge technology like we are. So it’s really nice that people are paying attention!”

Zohra is interested in hearing from…

…people in the food and lifestyle industry, potential advertisers, and entrepreneurs who are doing the same thing. “We’re a bunch of crazy people who need to get together every now and again!”