Pret a Manger & Bistro Milano Call Cops on New Street Sweets Truck
It sounds like 55th Street btw. 5+6th has been nothing but trouble for the brand new Street Sweets Truck since they popped up last week. On Monday, they complained that “politics” forced them to move to a different spot. Commenter “bm2e” seemed pretty pissed: “This is BULLSHIT. The carts on the block at 55th and 6th are a standard hot dog cart (pretty good, reasonable prices) and a mediocre halal cart that isn’t even there every day. Add to this poor showing the fact that the crap Italian restaurant in the first floor of 1350 6th Ave actually went and rented a U-Haul to prevent the truck from parking.” (I got confirmation that Bistro Milano, the Italian restaurant inside 1350, did indeed rent a UHaul and put it in the spot to prevent them from parking there on Monday.)
Well, it looks like it all came to a head yesterday when I noticed the scene above in front of the truck just before Noon. I asked one of the cops what was going on and he seemed all too excited to tell me.
“You want to know what is going on?”, he said. “I’ll tell you exactly what’s going. That place right there (pointed to Bistro Milano) and that place right there (pointed to Pret a Manger) are both pissed because they pay all this rent to this building and now this truck is selling food right outside their door.” And naturally, because it’s the same kind of food they’re angry. “That’s the thing!”, he continued. “It’s completely different! That restaurant right there is fancy, and doesn’t even open until lunch. What do they care if these guys are serving coffee and muffins in the morning. This truck is following all the laws. They’re doing nothing wrong. You don’t want them to park in front of your business… you know what? Too bad. This is America!”
He obviously wasn’t speaking as an official spokesperson for the NYPD, but seemed genuinely annoyed that they had to waste their time coming out to take care of this nonsense. In addition to the cops, the Fire Department and HAZMAT (the guys who handle hazardous material!?!) were both called to the scene by the owner of 1350 6th Ave. (the building that houses both Bistro Milano & Pret).
The landlord has complained directly to the Street Sweets truck a number of times before yesterday. The initial complaint was about the noisy muffler that disturbs the diners eating outside the restaurant on the sidewalk. So Street Sweets spent almost $2000 ordering a silent muffler which will arrive next week. But that wasn’t enough. The building then complained about the smell of diesel, but the truck’s engine is off during most of the day, running on propane generators (and when the truck is running, it runs on bio-diesel.) So, they switched to complaining about the smell of grease and oil- but Street Sweets does no frying on the truck, so there is no oil or grease.
Clearly the building just wants them gone, but according to the Fire Captain on the scene the truck is breaking no rules. They have the legal amount of propane on the truck and are parked in a completely legal spot. As long as they can withstand the complaints and harassment from the building, they can stay there.
The problem is, they’re not just getting it from the building. The other street vendors in the area are unhappy as well- most notably the morning coffee cart. Street Sweets, in an effort to be a good neighbor and to show they’re not interested in stealing business that other carts have worked years to build up, agreed to not sell regular, American coffee before 11am. Only espresso and cappuccino, which in theory wouldn’t infringe on the sales of the coffee cart. Not sure if that will be enough to satisfy, but we’ll see.
Either way, Pret still wants them gone. According to the owner of the Street Sweet Truck, one of the managers of Pret complained to him yesterday that the truck was “destroying our morning business.” The truck’s owners find that hard to believe since they took in less than $100 (if even that.) But in this economy every bit counts, and (while this may surprise you) I do see the other perspective.
Pret and Bistro Milano pay a lot of money in rent, and their competition was clearly defined before they moved in. There are a limited number of places to rent space. If we allowed *direct* competitors to just set up on the sidewalk in front of every business in the city, it would be pretty bad for business across the board. To top it off, there is no question that al fresco dining is a big part of Bistro Milano’s business, and having a truck parked so close to their sidewalk area is no doubt annoying.
On the other hand, 55th street is zoned to accept street carts and trucks, and if the truck is breaking no law they should be allowed to stay. And they’re not the only truck that parks there. The street is jam packed with idling delivery trucks all day long. Is Bistro Milano going to go after UPS?
I’ve always been quick to criticize street carts who bully other street carts that are not competition. Halal vendors should not bully a cart selling Mexican food or Korean food, and Mister Softee shouldn’t bully a lady selling cookies and brownies. It’s not direct competition. But what about when a new truck shows up that clearly does effect your bottom line. There is no question the Street Sweets truck will negatively effect the businesses in question. Most directly, Pret and the Coffee Cart- and indirectly, they will effect Bistro Milano by making their outdoor dining slightly less pleasant.
So what’s the answer? My gut says “bring on the trucks, and let the strong survive!” But that system would benefit some at the expense of a lot of hard working people who have spent years building up their business. It’s easy to say “Screw Pret”, but a little harder to say “Screw that guy making $15,000 a year selling coffee and doughnuts.” You can’t have it both ways. No matter what concessions they make, the Street Sweets Truck parking on 55th will hurt the coffee vendor too. In a lot of ways, the surrounding businesses are lucky that Street Sweets are at least trying to be good neighbors (ordering the muffler, not serving coffee before 11am, etc.) They aren’t legally obligated to do any of those things.
I’m not sure I know the solution, but I do know this: As more and more of these new-school trucks and carts start popping up in Midtown, the problem is just going to get worse. And bullying and intimidation tactics are not the answer. Whether it is direct threats from another vendor, or a restaurant calling the cops.
According to their Twitter, the Street Sweets Truck is back today on the SE Corner of 55th & 6th.