Schnitzel Truck Responds: “It’s Not Our Fault!”

Apparently the Schnitzel & Things Truck didn’t like what I had to say this morning about the issues they had yesterday on 43rd & 6th Ave:

“Just saw your little piece on ML. To be quite honest I don’t really care who you side with. It doesn’t matter to us one bit. But one thing you should know is that our business DOES in fact rely on heavy foot traffic! And because I am on Twitter, it doesn’t give me the right to park where we feel we will get the most customers?

You side with the “old school” but your solution for us, to go find a quiet street isn’t actually a solution that works at all. Instead of siding maybe you should realize that it’s not our fault! There is a conflict situation at hand and I understand the other point of view just as much as you, but I have a business to run and I need to hit my targets on a daily basis to stay profitable. And if it means that I have to stand my ground and get threats from an ice cream guy, so be it.”

“I’m gonna let you in on a little secret, TWITTER IS NOT ENOUGH. It won’t cut it, so next time please try to be a little objective when you criticize. Like I said to you and many others, we don’t want trouble. But we will not back down when it comes to OUR livelihoods!! I think you kind of forgot about that as well. Mr softee and the halal guys aren’t the only ones out there making a living. Stay in touch.”

I love the new crop of street vendors, just as much as the old school street vendors- and I’ve done nothing but support all the new vendors on this site.  But your email sums up why these conflicts are happening more and more these days.  I don’t deny that you have every right to park wherever you want to “get the most customers”, but in the end that’s not a sustainable solution.  Because what happens when the next vendor comes along and decides he wants to park where you are parking.  And then all of a sudden we have 10 vendors trying to park in the same high traffic spot? That can’t be the solution.

The reason your business depends on foot traffic right now is because you’ve been around for less than 2 months!   But it doesn’t have to be that way.  I understand that Twitter is not enough, and I agree it will never be enough to sustain your business. The point I was trying to make is that you have so many tools at your disposable to make your business successful, if you just pay your dues.  Find a schedule of consistent spots, and build up your audience.  You don’t need to park on 43rd & 6th to run a profitable business in the long term. And if you insist of parking there, your short term profit might increase- but you might end up hurting your business (and the business of all street vendors) in the long term.

And that’s my point.  It’s not that I like old school vendors more than new school vendors, or want to protect their businesses more than new school vendors.  The vending community has policed itself fairly successfully for years, using a certain set of unwritten rules. If new vendors were allowed to park wherever they want, there will end up being serious long term consequences.  And not from quick to fight ice cream trucks.  It will be from cops, and brick and mortar businesses, and eventually the government. The vendors who have worked the streets for years understand this.  And that’s why they go to great lengths to protect the status quo.

If every new truck had your attitude, it wouldn’t be long before the streets were filled with trucks.  And that would not be acceptable to the brick and mortar businesses who pay obscene rents to do business on the packed streets of Midtown.  And they will do what they can to “hit their targets” and protect their bottom line… and that means putting you out of business.

I’m not against the Schnitzel Truck.  I’m for the Schnitzel Truck.  I LOVE the Schnitzel Truck.  That’s why I’m trying to help you.  And I think a lot of people who are thinking of becoming street vendors need to learn about these things before opening trucks of their own.  Too many entrepreneurs think that running a food truck is somehow different than running a brick and mortar.  They think, costs are cheaper and there is no rent, so it must be easier to make a profit from day one.  Well, that just isn’t the case. Like any business, it takes time to become profitable, and there are no quick fixes.

When it comes to brick and mortar businesses, a storefront that sees incredibly heavy foot traffic is going to cost much more in rent than an out of the way business location.  So, if you are the kind of business that relies on foot traffic you pay the exorbitant rent and take your chances.  If you are a business that people will go out of their way for, you pay less rent and rely on your marketing or cache or superior product to draw people in.  It doesn’t happen overnight, but with patience you end up with a successful and profitable business.

Why should street vending be any different?  If you want to park in a high traffic area, there are far more obstacles in your way.  Other vendors, brick and mortar businesses, and cops. You’ll get more tickets, and be forced to move more often.  It’s tougher.  And it if  wasn’t tougher, everybody would park there.  And if everybody starts parking in Midtown, the city is going to start enforcing the rules so that nobody can vend in Midtown.  That spot you were in yesterday?  It’s illegal.  Mister Softee truck or not, you are technically not allowed to park there.  So why fight them for the spot?

Your business is the kind of business that over time can be profitable on a less crazy block.  It might take a few months, but isn’t that preferable to fighting over real estate? Especially when a system of “park wherever you want” could lead to the city shutting down vending for everybody.  Wouldn’t you rather build up your business in a spot that is rightfully yours, and then be protected by the same unwritten rules that protect the current vendors from you?

If you fight for a spot like 43rd & 6th, you might win the battle.  But in the long run we’ll all end up losing the war.

What Happened At the Schnitzel & Things Truck Yesterday?


  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    “vending community has policed itself fairly successfully for years” by illegally trading underissued permits? $500,000 rent for a hot dog cart? Intimidation, vandalism and threats for parking spots? You’re OK with that?

    This is like saying ‘at least organized crime kept the fish market running fairly well’

    If this conflict drives vending off the streets then maybe more peoeple will get interested in reform when their favorite cart is gone. A status quo based on intimidation and vigilante justice should not be supported.

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    Am I the only one that is wondering how long these guys are going to be in business if they are worried about not turning a profit from Day 1? Back in my day, entrepreneurs knew that they needed at least 6-12 months of cash reserves to float them until their businesses got up and running.

  • Schnitzel guy seems like a jackass. He says: “To be quite honest I don’t really care who you side with.”, but then he complains about ML taking sides for the remainder of his email. Moreover, if it wasn’t for ML no one would even know about the Schnitzel truck. Schnitzel guy needs to leave his tears for his pillow when he goes home to cry himself to sleep.

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    Danny – The Schnitzel guys have yet to prove to me that they actually love the food they produce. As I said last thread on this topic, when they were in Union Square they all looked like they would rather be anywhere else. In contrast, they guys at the Wafels & Dinges truck always look like they’re having a good time, and Doug at the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck is one of my favorite vendors ever because it’s clear he’s having a good time.

    The thing I have against the chaos and disorder argument is that it would be way too easy for the city to just decide they would enforce the rules already on the books, ie vending from parking spots is illegal. I really don’t think that would lead to any good sort of reform – just leave us with block after block of dirty water dogs and generic halal carts.

  • rule one of selling food from a cart or truck in midtown: don’t piss off the guy who writes the most popular blog about selling food from a cart or truck in midtown.

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    One thing that struck me in Zach’s suggestion that Schnitzel find another corner & that the vendors are entitled to “bully” trucks is that it seems a little critical. I recall Zach criticizing other vendors for bullying new carts, such as the Happy Well Being (could be the wrong name) cart or when Rafiqi’s was bullying the 2nd El Rey Del Sabor cart or when other vendors bullied the 3rd Sabor cart.
    I don’t see the difference except it’s cart v. truck. I can see whereas one would want to take the position that established vendors have a right to “defend their turf” against new vendors and also the point that vendors should not be bullying new vendors.

    My question to Zach is why in the past have you come down against other vendors bullying new competitors & telling the new vendors (the 2nd Sabor cart for example) to hold their ground but here you seem to support it & tell the Schnitzel truck that they should just go somewhere else?

  • Schnitzel, the next Walgreen’s sandwich.

  • I am going to be contrarian here–I kind of agree with Shnitzel a bit. First off, I don’t think the twitter people will save a truck if the truck parks on some dead street outside of Midtown. The start up costs are surely extremely high for these trucks, and these guys can’t wait around to build a clientele. Their loans won’t allow them to do that. They need money now. I know a lot of people have a limited lunch time, and these trucks need to be in the highest foot traffic areas possible, for as many readers as ML may have, and as many loyal food truck eaters we may boast,and the whole “twitter” crowd notwithstanding, there are millions of people who are merely looking for something quick without the use of twitter, ML etc. Each truck needs to fight their asses off to get into high traffic areas and stay for as long as they can. I don’t think everyone will be shut down, and I don’t agree with the take one for the team attitude. Now, more than ever, it is beyond clear the government DOES need to step in and totally regulate what is becoming a terrible mess. Gotta love NYC govn’t–totally useless when it counts.

  • Invite all the other cart owners to a screening of Julie and Julia and lock the doors and burn the theater down.

  • Zach is right. The Schnitzels are wrong. The increased call volume to the police department is going to lead to more regulation. That means tougher rules on everyone.

    Schnitel’s sense of entitlement is all wrong.

  • The American people need Lebensraum!

  • One more thing. I think there’s a difference between bullying someone from being on the same sidewalk or street, and stealing someones spot. It sounds like Schnitzel is trying to steal a spot, and that’s unfortunate.

  • @Mamacita: We’ll need healthcare after all this street food, that’s what we’ll need.

  • What a bunch of whiners. You tried to take on an illegal spot – it’s your fault. You have no right to park there, neither does Mister Softee or anyone else. It’s Mister Softee’s fault too. I do however think Mister Softee got what they deserve too if they started the fight which lead to Verizon or whoever to notify the police? Mister Softee is trying to make a profit too so can’t really blame them for arguing or hating on Schnitzel Truck but if you both want to fight for an illegal spot, go ahead – no business for either of you since there obvious in’t a peaceful resolution…

    I won’t be trying their schnitzel anytime soon either. Their prices are a real turnoff to this cheapskate when I can have a delicious $5-6 halal plate or eat like a fat-ass at Gourmet 53 for $7.

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    If they’re so concerned about hitting their targets and being profitable, it seems kind of stupid to attack one of it’s main avenues of PR and word-of-mouth in

    If Zach’s readership decided to stop patronage of this Truck (or even started a boycott campaign) I’m pretty sure that would hurt them a lot more than parking at 43rd and 6th.

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    My 2 cents:

    1) As a new vendor (or established vendor), it pays in the long run to treat other vendors with respect.
    2) Why not treat the “old-school” vendors with the same respect as you show for the “new” vendors. No reason to treat them differently because they serve halal or crappy hot dogs. They’ve got families to feed too.
    3) Most the the “new vendors” (me, Treats Truck, Van Leeuwen) have managed to get into good spots without major fights. The truth is there ARE plenty of spots still available (maybe fewer corner spots, more mid-block spots), but if your food is good, you WILL have good business in Midtown.
    4) Any shouting match between vendors is bad PR for the whole industry. And yes, it may very well end up having negative repercussions for all vendors. NYPD will crack down because of the constant hassle for them. Local restaurants flex their muscle because of over-saturation on some corners. We can’t be naive…these are powerful players and a crack down is bound to happen if we continue on this way.
    5) If new vendors manage to integrate themselves peacefully, eventually street food will evolve to higher quality. Just trust that the market will take care of eliminating the junk.It’s already happening.

    Re. the S&T guys…they have a great idea, they were brilliant in sticking to 1 concept and not going all over the place with the menu. AND they are really nice (and tough) guys…My comments are directed at the whole new vendor scene and not at S&T directly.

  • It’s natural selection baby. Street food is evolving — largely in thanks to Zach’s work at ML. The street food options these days are thankfully not just dirty water dogs and pretzels anymore. I agree that maybe new street vendors shouldn’t invade the exact spots that have been inhabited by vendors for years and years — that being said it is COMPLETE BULLSHIT when these old-time vendors resort to intimidation of new vendors that are merely operating in the same vicinity. Zach– you can’t possibly be saying that you agree that such behavior is OK. There’s a big difference between a new vendor usurping someone’s exact spot and a new vendor finding a spot on the same block as an old-time vendor and having to deal with threats of violence.

  • @moriath,

    I misspoke a little. I don’t mean to suggest that the Schnitzel Truck or the new trucks are the only ones who care about the food they produce. However, what I think is important is that consumers end up getting trucks that want to produce new and innovative and delicious food. Does this mean I’m biased against dirty dog vendors and generic ice cream trucks? Yes, very much so. If the Big Gay Ice Cream truck of Van Lewhatever puts a Mister Softee outta business, then tough luck to the guy who ran that Softee truck. Get a new job.

    The only way we’re going to get to more delicious trucks if you have trucks that are trying to be the best truck out there. None of those dirty water hot dog vendors are even remotely unique.

    Looks, you might be looking for some outwardly signs that a new food vendor cares about the product. Maybe you’re looking for exceptional service, friendly faces… but I don’t care about any of that. I care about uniqueness in the food cart scene, and a desire to take over the world.

    Would a crackdown lead to less food trucks? Perhaps. It might even be the most likely scenario. But I’m willing to live with that. I also never ever abide by the idea of “oh well they can’t fix the rules even if they tried so let’s not do it” kind of attitude. Denigrating reform that hasn’t happened is kind of pointless. You gotta give reform a chance. If everyone is cynical about reform, then what the fuck is the point of trying for anything?

  • I disagree with Zach. As Dr. Horrible said, “The status is not quo.” As the number of vendors approaches infinity, there *will* be more fights between the vendors themselves and between the vendors and the brick and mortars. The cops *will* be called, and eventually, the very-much-visible hand of regulation will sweep in and set things more-or-less straight.

    It’s becoming clear that the unspoken rules aren’t working for the city, the carts, or the eating public. The permits go on a black market that the city gets no money for. The carts have to pay into that black market and resort to violence to protect their spots. And the eating public has to deal with an infinite number of identical halal carts and dirty water hot dogs.

    That being said, Midtown Lunch is like a family that might have disagreements between them, but the politics end at the website’s edge. I’ll side with Zach a thousand times over some new Midtown Schnitzelslinger! Talk about biting the hand that provides the people you feed!

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    Wafels and Dinges gets it.

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