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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Plant would make Islamic food in Muncie

Halal Processing Solutions hopes to revive a former food processing plant and is seeking a tax abatement

 Halal Processing Solutions

MUNCIE — A group of Texas business partners hope to turn a former corn dog plant in Muncie into a top producer of Halal foods for Islamic customers.

Halal Processing Solutions is gearing up for operations in the former Monogram Comfort Foods facility in the 2100 block of East Willard Street. Monogram, successor to longtime pork fritter producer Al Pete Meats, went out of business this spring, ending the jobs of 87 workers.

But partners in Halal, a new start-up, have moved quickly to set up operations in the building. Halal president Tom Keim told members of Muncie City Council’s tax abatement committee this week that they’ve stripped out processing equipment formerly used by Monogram and replaced or rehabbed the building’s floors and walls.

The company’s plan? Produce Halal food like hot dogs, bologna and a bacon substitute, beef breakfast strips, for Islamic customers around the country.

“The Muslim population is growing in this country,” Keim said. In particular, Halal Processing Solutions wants to provide product for Halal hot dog carts in New York and other cities.

“We have a shot at putting this product in every hot dog cart in New York City,” Keim said.
Halal food — after which the company has been named — are products allowed under Islamic dietary practices. Halal never includes pork or pork products and focuses on the most humane slaughter of animals possible. Keim noted animals would not be slaughtered at the Willard Street facility but would be bought from Halal-certified suppliers.

The tax abatement committee approved Halal’s request for a five-year abatement on equipment at the plant. Muncie City Council will vote on the request on July 8.

Keim and Halal executive Paul Whitehair said the plant would also ultimately produce turkey and chicken products — everything except pork.

To ensure the purity of the Halal food made at the Willard Street plant, an imam — a Muslim religious leader — will have an office on the premises and certify the process. It’s a practice not unlike processors that have a rabbi on site to ensure kosher standards are met.

Keim said the company can be successful if it assures customers that it meets strict Halal food processing rules. He said some other companies don’t take all the necessary steps.

Al Pete Meats was founded in 1961 and operated for decades before it was sold to Tennessee-based Monogram in 2008. The company had plans for expansion but abruptly closed this spring.

At Monday’s tax abatement committee meeting, Muncie City Council President Jerry Dishman emphasized to Keim and Whitehair the importance of re-hiring former Monogram employees.

The company representatives said they employed about 15 people now — many of them former employees — and hope to add another 35 people to the workforce within six months. Keim said he believed Halal Processing Solutions would surpass the 80-some employee numbers of Monogram.
Keim said the owners of Halal Processing Solutions are Houston, Texas, partners Bilal Aquil, Firas Ali Brahim and Tom Johnson.

Contact business editor Keith Roysdon at 213-5828 and follow him on Twitter at @keithroysdon.

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