New York Times Turns Giant Eye Towards the Street Vendor Issue


I’ve been wanting somebody to write this article ever since the Treats Truck was first intimidated by the Mister Softee truck on 45th & 6th back in 2007.  It took almost two years, but it was well worth the wait. The New York Times has devoted a huge article in today’s food section to all the craziness happening in the street food scene these days, and it’s all in there- from the threats received by the Treats Truck and the Rickshaw Dumpling Truck, to the trials and tribulations of the Street Sweets Truck.  The piece also mentions the NYC Cravings Truck and Wafels and Dinges, and touches on how the bad economy has created a glut of new street vendors (and the problems this could end up causing as more continue to pop up.)  Even the Steak Truck (on 47th & Park) gets mentioned- surprisingly they are not bothered at all by the new La Cense Burger Truck parked just one block away.

But the best part is the shout out that the Midtown Lunchers got!

From the very end of the article:

“After the [Street Sweets] truck’s showdown with the authorities was reported on the Midtown Lunch blog, the restaurant [Bistro Milano] received angry phone calls from readers.”

This whole thing comes one day after a blog post in the Diner’s Journal reported that 6 people were arrested on Tuesday as part of a two year sting operation to crack down on the black market that traffics in street vendor permits.

“The probe concluded that at least 500 food-vendor permits… are probably held illegally [and] those cases have been reported to the city’s Health Department, which issues the permits.”

I’m all for cracking down on the black market, and making sure that all street carts are up to code.  But coming down on clean, hard working vendors, who are just trying to earn a living is wrong. Especially when their only crime was obtaining a license in the only way they knew how. They should not be punished because poor policy forced them to purchase permits illegally.  It’s only a matter of time before your favorite carts gets shut down because it has a permit that is in somebody elses name.  In other words, the sellers should be punished- not the buyers.

I love the coverage these important issues are getting, but I’m staring to worry that all this publicity in the mainstream media might create a repeat of the Red Hook Ballfield vendor fiasco.  In that situation, the city stepped in to “fix” something that really didn’t need fixing, at a great cost to the vendors. (And all in the name of the “public good”.)  In contrast, the current street vendor system is broken, I’m just worried that any “fixing”  that involves vendors bidding for permits, or the city cracking down on illegal permits so that “no money is left on the table” is only going to end up hurting the hard working vendors that have spent years building up their relatively small businesses.

Turf War at the Hot Dog Cart [New York Times]

Hot Dog Vendors Gang Up on the Street Sweets Truck
Prediction: New Carts & Trucks Are About to See Some Serious Backlash
Pret a Manger & Bistro Milano Call Cops on New Street Sweets Truck
Halal Vendors Chase Happy Well Being Cart Back Downtown
Rafiqi’s Tries To Intimidate New Mexican Cart From 49th Street


  • wow Zach, you are like the “Expert” on street vendors. Everyone comes to you for a quote when doing a story on street vendors… Awesome!

  • Zach,

    You are being quoted in the NY Times almost weekly. Don’t let it go to your head or anything :)

  • More importantly: Page 6, Yushi has an upgraded sushi bar opening today. Where’s the complimentary passes?

  • Just read the article, great job on getting recognition by NYT again!

    I am wondering though, what do you have to do to have them provide a direct link to your site when they mention you in the article?

  • In support of this article, on the front page of the NYT Dining Section there is a cartoon of your typical food vendors at war (hot dogs, burgers, etc.) Mildly entertaining, but what intrigued me was the inclusion of a cartoon “clam roll” cart. Is there actually a clam roll cart in NY?!? Or is this just the NYT taking liberties with factual reporting again?

  • While the Red Hook Ball Fields situation unfolded in an unfortunate manner, I’m glad that in the end, the vendors ended up with permits. Even though I think if a place continually gets people sick, people would stop visiting, it’s still good to make people have permits and pass inspection.

    My friend from Singapore says that the food vendors that bid in an auction system for their permits. And arguably that’s the food cart capital of the world. But here in New York we don’t like the bidding system for some reason. I mean, we’re ok if there’s a bidding system for hot dog vendors in Central Park because well, we don’t eat lunch in Central Park.

    There’s only so many ways to fix a broken system where you have an endless number of people who think they can run a food car. Hell, someone wanted to sell f’kn pb&j sandwiches on the street.

    We all want some sort of utopian world where vending permits are easy to come by, vending permits are cheap, parking spots are plenty, food trucks don’t congest traffic, and the list is endless. But that proposed legislation from 3100 permits to 25,000 permits is only going to increase traffic congestion. Increase pollution. What else? hmm… I think it’ll help the situation, but it’s not going to help the city. With 8 times as many permits, it’s possible the permit supply will be more than permit demand. Just seems like a silly way for a city to do business. And just because there’s more people signing up for $200 dollar permits doesn’t make the system any better. You’re only going to have marginally more money in the budget. To do what? Inspect? I’m surprised they did this inspection because it’s just a waste of money in a time when the city can’t even afford to hire new teachers.

  • @ Danny – I agree with you that increasing the permits to 25,000 is not the answer, especially if it isn’t accompanied by new ways of handling cart vs. cart, and cart vs. brick and mortar relations.

    But the Ballfields are not better off because of the new “regulations”. You can create healthy street food without forcing street vendors to go into ridiculous debt, just to conform to a code created by a bunch of people in city hall who probably had never even been to the Ballfields. And their only crime, really, was becoming popular (not getting anybody sick.)

    So, while I support making sure that current carts are completely up to code, and I support cracking down on the black market that supplies illegal permits, I don’t support a plan that forces already established street vendors- who already make very little money- to have to bid against new vendors in order to keep the businesses they have fought years to build up.

    If you think you can have your $5 chicken + lamb over rice, while simultaneously forcing the vendors to bid against well funded new mobile operations, you are sorely mistaken.

  • The ballfields were absolutely ruined by the DOH codes. It’s sad. The were better off being left alone, they whole heart and soul of the park is gone.

  • Damn I can’t spell: “They were better off being left alone”…. “the whole heart and soul of the park is gone”…

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    Some of the comments on the New York Times Article are pretty choice:

    July 1st, 2009
    12:44 pm
    I have never condoned street vending of any kind – food or goods. I don’t care how “designer” the foods are they are selling, or how cheap the goods they are selling are compared to buying them in stores. They are unneeded competition for regular merchants, and always have been.”

    You must’ve enjoyed the view from behind your desk … in Maryland.

  • or more likely, from a singlewide in a trashy trailer park deep in rural Arkansas

  • Living with Doc Chuck LOL!

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    Any vendors looking at this thread – pleassssssse come to the United Nations. There is no competition, and awful food in the cafeteria. And there is a real shortage of convenient take out options on first ave. Imagine, thousands of hungry office workers, no competition……

  • Can someone explain to me how a food truck is competition for a jewelry vendor? I can almost buy the argument from the vendor that if someone only has $5 to spend, they will choose from one food vendor or another, but if I’m hungry, I’m not going to choose jewelry over lunch. And if I’m looking for jewelry, I’m not going to buy a hot dog or fancy cupcake.

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