What If “Natural Selection” Leads to the End of All Street Food?

It seems that every time I advise the new crop of trucks to find… how should I put it… less threatening corners of Midtown to park in, a common theme pops up among those who disagree: Natural Selection.  Survival of the fittest baby!  Let the carts all park where they want, and fight it out for ultimate supremacy.  The good ones will thrive, the bad ones will die. It’s the capitalist way.  Hell, it’s the American way.  And quite frankly, we all would gladly trade 20 dirty water dog carts for 1 schnitzel truck.

There’s only one problem.  Allowing that argument to play itself out in the streets of Midtown might actually undermine the survival of all carts (the good and the bad.)

As great an idea as natural selection is in theory, it wouldn’t work the way you think it would work in Midtown.  Nevermind the fact that just like there will always be Sbarro’s and TGI Fridays in Midtown, there will always be dirty water dogs.  Tourists want them, and the economics of those businesses have stood the test of time.  The food is cheap, the margins are good, and the guys who work and own those carts are willing to get paid far less money a year than the new crop of vendors serving croissants, or schnitzel, or what have you.

Not even taking that fact into consideration, understand this:  the more carts that park on the busiest streets of Midtown, the closer we get to the city shutting down everybody.  That’s it.  What happened the other day was an example of that playing out.  A new vendor brings new attention to an old corner.  Both vendors get kicked out.  It doesn’t matter who is wrong or right.  The outcome wasn’t good for anybody!

Survival is not always about fighting.  It’s not always about beating the inferior cart.  Sometime it’s about understanding the complexity of a situation.  It’s about knowing that if you waste time fighting a lesser enemy you might open yourself to a force larger than you both.

I think the Wafels & Dinges Truck sums it up perfectly in their comment:

“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.”

My rant the other day was not meant to be taken as a rebuke of the Schnitzel Truck, or even as an offering of support to the status quo.  I don’t buy into the current system, and I don’t think that any cart or truck should threaten another cart or truck. It’s wrong, and shouldn’t be tolerated. And I wasn’t advocating for that kind of behavior or the carts who engage in it.  My point was just to say if the new trucks continue to park in the highest density areas of Midtown, eventually the city will crack down, and nobody will get to vend in Midtown.  And that’s good for nobody.  So my advice to these new vendors is to find spots where you won’t get hassled.  Don’t fight the fights, because in the long run the brick and mortar businesses will turn the cops and the city into the ultimate predator.  And “Natural Selection” will weed you all out.

What Happened At the Schnitzel & Things Truck Yesterday?
Schnitzel Truck Responds: “It’s Not Our Fault!”


  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    Zack – sensible comments. War – what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again.

    On a serious note, more fights, means more bad PR, means more enforcement. The cops will not leave it alone when vendors are literally fighting in the streets. Not good for brick-and-mortar business (who will complain) and not good for tourism. It all equals badness for the street guys.

    I don’t know what the solution is but I hope it works out so that there are more high quality street foods. But I think there will be a little blood-shedding for that occur.

  • I have to say, if you need to park in the middle of a street -maybe far from pedestrian traffic. Embrace the old school ways of gathering attention. The only way I found Los Poblanitas (which is located in a dirty little alleyway) is because they had some guy with a sign pointing people to the storefront. Pay some homeless dude to hold a big sign up for you and they will come!

  • You raise a good point Zach, and yes there’s some equilibrium of brick & mortars vs street carts. The thing is, the argument for either side works both ways. You could say that if TruckNew parks next to TruckOld, then what’s to stop TruckSuperNew parking next to both of them? Similarly, if we say all new trucks should find other spots, why not say the old trucks who can’t cut it should go find another spot?

    At the end of the day, the solution you suggest, while promoting peace amongst carts, is basically status quo. It’s not going to bring about any change to the way things work. I think sometimes there’s a belief in this country that we shouldn’t change what’s broken because we might fuck it up even more. That’s just not the way we should see the world though. There are complex problems, and like you said, this is a complex problem.

    The solution, however nebulous it may seem at the moment, should never be pushed aside for the fear that a few vendors might get their toes stepped on. And while we’re on the topic of solutions, the one that was proposed earlier about increasing the number of permits from 3100 to 25000. I hope everyone recognizes how idiotic that solution would be.

  • Third rant in 3 days … must be advertiser sweeps week and Zach needs one more 50+ comment thread to make his bonus numbers

  • @Danny – Well, here’s the thing… the old school carts pose a far smaller threat to the brick and mortar businesses in Midtown. They make such a small amount of money, nobody really cares.

    The more trucks and carts that park in Midtown with higher aspirations (financially), trucks that have opened as a way to bypass paying rent for a brick and mortar location, the more of a backlash you are going to start seeing from the city (backed by property owners being forced to lower their rents to compete.)

  • Just in case anyone doesn’t have time to read all of the truck-parking editorials this week, I found a good substitute:


  • @mamacita: I am the guy who holds up the sign for las poblanitas, and I am not homeless (and the burritos are not really 3.75). ha!

  • Pay some homeless dude to hold a big sign up for you and they will come!…..Field of dreams after bankers bonuses.

    Also…is it just be…..or is Bourdain even getting bored with himself?…….and will he please go chef postal and shoot Batali.

    Im going to a pub.

  • I’m not an expert in street vending culture, but do other cities have this problem? How do they deal with it? I can’t imagine that New York is the only place where this is happening.

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    So, as the system stands you allow vigilante ownership of public propery?

    Do you really think that there’s some underground council that awards corners through dignity and good standing in the vending community?

    I guess you should expand on how this honor system of yours works….would you be happier if a new truck bought their spot from the ‘owner’?

    I’m curious, do I get my spot back if I go on vacation for a month? Can someone else park there while I’m gone? Can I bequest it upon someone?

    Can you tell me where the greek lady registered her ownership of that spot? Has she been there forever? Maybe on the the Rey del Sabor guys had that spot in a previous life before tragically being hit by a Mr Softy truck…should that spot remain his?

    How do you know that Mr Softy truck parked on 41st and 6th before?

    Outline for us the ‘unwritten rules’ for a spot to be passed on, won’t you…so the Clam Roll guy can start his business without making waves…

    Or you could just stick to food.

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    Other than Zach and a few fucktards with nothing better to do but pontificate from their cubicles for the sake of seeing their own crap in “print” who gives a flying fuck?

    I call non-issue – about as interesting as a Fred/DocChuck battle of “wits” flame war. Similarly, repetition isn’t going to make it any less insignificant.


  • What if “Natural Selection” leads to the End of All People who pretend to live in NYC (like ‘Fred’ who does NOT live in NYC), or to people who visit NYC on business 12 to 15 times per year (like DocChuck and his wife, Dr. E.).

    OR, what if “Natural Selection” leads to the END of ALL civilized discourse on the blogs of such as MTL (unlike ‘Adam’ and the ‘fucked buffalo’?

    I mean, I’m just asking.

    Let’s face it, “Street Food” is being peddled by people who are desperate to make a living in this shitty economy. I feel for them — but NOT enough to endanger my health by eating their ‘food.’

    Have a great weekend, Louise and Adam and Rudy.

  • Is it permitted in the comments on MTL to use words like the one DocChuck used in the 2nd-to-last word in the second paragraph? Or is it a bannable offense?

    Oh, and I live in Bedrock, not NYC.

  • If we ignore and if we do NOT feed the troll Louise (‘Fred’), she may eventually go away — back to her dark cave at the “CassandraCrossing.”

  • Funniest thing ever – DocChuck commenting about trolls

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    I kno im a lil late but Zach you kinda sound like a hipocrite,

    “Allowing that argument to play itself out in the streets of Midtown might actually undermine the survival of all carts ”

    If thats the case and the fighting should have never ensued, then Mr. Softee should have realized that and never started the fight in the 1st place. S&T was only protecting themselves from oncoming doushebaggery.

    For you to side with the very vendors who started the ruckus [and who have been there longer and should understand these 'unwritten rules'] shows some D-baggery on your end as well.

    So you are pretty much saying that fighting over the spot could result in the end of food truckage.
    But, instead of criticizing the Ice cream vendor who STARTED the threats, [Ice Cream and Schnitzel are 2 COMPLETELY different products AND markets so why pick a fight in the 1st place, pointless] you are condemning the Schnitz guys for defending themselves.

    If these old school vendors are so concerned about maintaining these unwritten rules and not overexposing the black market bulshit that goes on, then THEY shouldnt go around pickin fights with new vendors.

    Dont turn around and blame the New vendors for not following som bullshit guidelines and claiming they are gonna ruin the food truck industry, when its these veteran vendors, WHO ALREADY SHOULD KNOW THESE UNWRITTEN BULLSHIT RULES, who are putting the industry at risk by going around and threatening people and having cops come shutting everyone down.

    Thats like blaming a mugging victim for killing the mugger in self defense.

  • Where’s the damn downvote button on this page.

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