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.