Hot Dog Vendors Gang Up on the Street Sweets Truck


Urgh.  What did I say on Wednesday? This just in from Lunch’er Lee:

“Just went by the Street Sweets Truck and 4 hot dog carts set up in their spot on 53rd btwn 5th and 6th at 9am. Not to beat a dead horse, but how could selling croissants and coffee possibly cut into hot dog cart business? They sell crappy hot dogs and prepackaged beef patties? Total horsesh*t, now I don’t have a cup of coffee and I am tired.”

I think it’s easy to turn against the hot dog vendors in front of MOMA but look at things from their perspective.

I don’t think it’s right for any cart to intimidate or threaten another cart, but you have to appreciate the full scope of the situation here.  For years, Midtown carts have policed themselves using this method.  Before the latest wave of “hipster” vendors showed up, vendors couldn’t just park their carts wherever they wanted…they had to ask permission, or broker a deal with the other carts in the area.  It’s the reason why there aren’t 20 carts parked in front of MOMA.  Or trucks filling up every single square inch of Midtown for that matter.

It’s easy to say “hey, the more carts the better for us!”  But the truth is, that’s not the case.  If an infinite number of carts were allowed to park in Midtown, the brick and mortar businesses- who have learned to live side by side with a certain number of mobile vendors- will quickly become hostile if the number of vendors multiply exponentially. And they will start coming down on the cops to enforce rules that they might be ignoring right now.  (Like not being able to vend from a metered spot.)

The fact is, the “system” (for lack of a better word) that the vendors have created for themselves does have some advantages.  Mainly, keeping the number of carts at a level that has been acceptable to most Midtown businesses for decades.  If new trucks start disrupting that order, there could be problems that end up hurting us (the cart loving consumers.)

And that doesn’t even take into account the hard working vendors working at nondescript hot dog carts, who have toiled away in these spots for years and years to make wages that would be unthinkable to us- especially considering how many hours they work, and the distances they travel to work at a cart in tourist heavy Midtown.  There is no excuse for intimidation or threats, but the fact is these hard working vendors (who make practically nothing) depend entirely on tourist and walk up business. They need a spot like the one in front of MOMA to survive.  The Street Sweets truck doesn’t need that spot to survive.

The new breed of trucks have so many more resources at their disposable.  Twitter… Facebook… PR from blogs.  And a customer base that will go a little out of their way to find them.  That’s why I suggested that Street Sweets find a less desireable spot, and build their audience from there.  The Treats Truck did it with their spot on 38th and 5th Ave.  The Street Sweets Truck can do it too.  If not, this is just going to keep on happening.

And this should be a lesson to all new vendors, or those thinking about jumping into the business.  Yes, opening a truck is cheaper than opening a brick and mortar store.  Yes, you will get more press because you are mobile.  But finding a spot is not as easy as it seems.  And too many new vendors are looking for lightning in a bottle.  They park in a spot for one day, and if the business isn’ t there they move on to another spot… usually in a high foot traffic area with other entrenched vendors (who end up hassling them.)

New vendors need to be more patient, and know that you might go a few months in a single spot without being profitable- or just squeaking by.  But you have to pay your dues, and stick with a single spot in order to build up a consistent customer base.  Treats Truck did it.  Wafels and Dinges did it.  And so did the Biryani Cart, and the Kwik Meal Cart, and a lot of these hot dog vendors too.  And those last three didn’t have Twitter!


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    I’m not a fan of all of these posh, glam’d up trucks. To me they’re missing the point of real street food.
    It’s just one step away from Whole Foods or Starbucks jumping on the food truck bandwagon. Let the little guys have their battle. They’ve feed the city in the rain, snow, heat for YEARS….I have no pity for these new yupster trucks. The American Dream is turning into Walmart.

  • tacorific, these trucks ARE the little guys.

  • If I were a hot dog vendor, I think I’d be more concerned that there were (at least) three other hot dog carts in my immediate sightlines, than seeing a new truck that serves something completely different. And at a different price point, too — some (most?) tourists are just gonna skip the $5 pastry for a $2 Genuine New York City hot dog.

  • Formz and Dave good points guys!! We’re just trying to serve good food! And nothing wrong with a little different flavor! and these hot dog carts should really worry about the other 10000 other hot dog carts!

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    @Formz – since when is the little guy the one who can afford a customized $60,000 truck?

  • Cart costs what? $2-3k?

    A truck fitted out (Guess) $30-40k?

    We all work (or have worked ;)) in open markets, subject to competitors undercutting prices/offering better service.’tis the way of the world folks…and sadly also for hotdog guys on $6 an hour.

    And SchnitzelThings, when the Movie Bruno opens…you will make $$$$$$$$…i actually got tunnel vision from laughing.

  • Rudy, we’re gonna open with a Bruno special.. Bratwurst platter with one side, and a drink for 5 $:)))

  • Hey Schnitzel truck… any chance that drink is Gōsser?

    I can always dream…

  • Actually 2 sides and maybe a soup :)

  • Jesus, im getting schnitzel cravings….in shropshire…thinly pounded pork(snigger) breaded and fried……..where will i get that here?…we don’t even let the welsh in, never mind the krauts.

  • Dave, you don’t know if it’s the same license owner for the 3 hot dog carts and someone’s getting kickbacks. Plus, traffic is so heavy that one hot dog cart couldn’t possibly handle the queues anyway. I mean, there’s a reason why they’re coexisting and banding together.

    @ everyone else. I think it’s easy to be critical when you’re from the outside looking in. zach brought up a valid point that vending is a business of cutthroats fighting over pennies. Instead of quarreling over space in an oversaturated area, they should establish their own base a couple of blocks away and boost PR/Marketing. if the product has enough value to compensate for the extra commute that customers will have to make, then it won’t matter where you park.

  • Deanlo, you’ve been on a middle management teamleader development meeting all morning,haven’t you?

  • @tacorific

    $60k is nothing to start a business. NOTHING. Thats a very small loan to a bank for a business. Not to mention pulling $60k out the air is laughable. $60k!? Have you SEEN some of the trucks?

  • @tacorific – a 3 minute craiglist search found this:

    That leaves you with $51k to put cooking equipment in it and paint it. Hahahahaha

  • I am pretty sure that if you need some help, Formz would be glad to help resolve the problem next week. He may be German and not Austrian, but you guys have to stick together. I want a huge helping of currywurst right now!!!

  • @Danny – Two problems with that system… #1 I agree that the city needs to update their rules on permits, and keep dead people from renewing- but you can’t have people bid every year. It would be like asking businesses to renew their lease every year. Vendors need time to build up a customer base, and some have been working years to do that. Once a year is too often to force vendors to re-bid for their licenses at an open auction.

    #2. I’m not convinced that a “free market” system works to the advantage of the Midtown Luncher. Opening it up the highest bidder doesn’t ensure the best vendors will win. It insures that the richest vendors would win, or the vendors whose profit margins are the greatest. “Survival of the fittest” is what is causing the gentrification of this country. It’s why fast food chains outnumber the Midtown Lunch options that we all love. (And it’s not because the “food is better”.)

    And if you really feel this way, than I’m assuming you were all for the city having open bidding for the Red Hook Ballfields? Remember that whole thing? They suggested opening the bidding up, and people went nuts. If you support open bidding for Midtown spots, then you would have to support the same measures for the ballfields and Jackson Heights and Chinatown.

    I will admit I don’t know the right answer. There are a ton of issues going on at once, and I don’t think “free market” is any better a solution than “protect the dirty water dog vendors at all cost.” But there must be a middle ground we can find that protects the hard working vendors that work at no-name carts, while fostering an environment that allows new vendors to open profitable mobile businesses in Midtown.

  • Actually,Zach, any form of legislation would be wrong.There IS already too much
    You guy’s invented the free market economy “without Hinderance” and all that.what the Sgt Pevez’s of this world SHOULD be doing is allowing free trade without intimidation.

    forgive me, i married a Harvard Post Grad in law(didn’t go on for her ph.d…great sex she said, and the castle).

    If this Intimidation went on in an office corporate enviroment there would be millions in damages.

    Does the American legal system stop at the Buildings revolving doors?

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    I agree with much of what you originally wrote, Zach.

    For one thing, without know more about the situation (which I don’t) you could just as easily ask “why is the Street Sweets truck crowding those hot dog vendors?”

    Do we know where those hot dog vendors usually set up? I know there are lots of them there because that is primarily a tourist block. In fact it looks like two of the four are not even blocking Street Sweets but are further down the block.

    It is funny that the original poster said that the hot dog carts set up in Street Sweets’ spot. What makes it their spot? To the extent that any vendor has a more moral claim to any spot, it is because they build it up through years of hard work.

    I hope the carts can find a way to work together. But I do think the burden is on the new arrival to show respect to the vendors who are already there.

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    but the most profitable vendors (we’re not talking about multi-million dollar corps like mc’d) are going to be the ones that have the best food… so doesn’t that mean the ones that get the vendors or the riches should be the best vendors in town? Don’t you think the halal cart on 53rd and 6th is raking in some good coin?

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    hhahaha i just realized i said multi-million and mc’d… yes.. i know mc’d is multi-billion

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