Ever wondered what the white sauce is made from at your favorite chicken and rice cart? Or where the cart even comes from? Where do they prepare the food? And, of course- is it clean? Have you ever wondered what it was like to run a street cart? Here is a glimpse into the life of one person that knows the answers to all those questions…
Much has been written about Muhammed Rahman. Born in Bangladesh, this chef has become famous for being that street cart guy who used to work at the Russian Tea Room. Now he owns and operates Kwik Meal, a Lamb & Rice cart on 45th & 6th which opened in 2000. Since then Rahman has opened two more carts (one on 45th & 5th, and one on 47th & Park) both run by his brothers. Food costs are high, and profits are low- yet he would never go back to cooking at a restaurant, because he loves the interaction with the customers you only get running a food cart. This is a day in his life…
Photos & Timeline by Ryan Devlin
6:00am: Muhammed Rahman wakes up in Jackson Heights, Queens. Heads to garage (also in Jackson Heights) to pick up his cart.
6:28am: Arrives at the garage in Jackson Heights, and gets the cart stocked with goods. As is required by law, all the food, drinks and sauces must be prepared and stored in the garage, or other DOH approved facility. Nothing can be prepared at home. Rahman buys most of his supplies directly from wholesalers and has them delivered directly to the garage. The cart is stocked up with supplies for the day, including the meat which had been prepared the night before, and left to marinate overnight.
6:55am: The cart is hooked up to the truck, and they leave the garage with cart in tow.
7:25am: The truck arrives at corner of 45th and 6th, at which point the truck tows it into place before the workers straighten it out by hand. The whole process takes about five minutes. On this morning, the sidewalk had already been hosed down by the building’s maintenence man… but if they show up to a dirty sidewalk, Rahman will rinse it off himself while the truck waits with the cart.
7:30am: The cart is secured in its spot. A worker takes the truck to be parked in a Midtown garage, which costs hundreds of dollars a month. Everyone else goes to work setting the cart up. The glass windows are put into place, and the inside of the cart is prepared. First the pans and containers are arranged in their proper place. Then the sauces. After that, the propane tank is set up and the surfaces are given another wipe-down just before cooking starts. One guy sets up the beverages, putting ice in the cooler and water, sodas, etc. After that, the workers pull on their white chef smocks and white hats.
8:07am: Once the cart is prepped and everything is in place, they fire up the grill, oil it down, and the cooking begins. Chicken goes on the grill first, while another worker starts throwing falafel balls into the deep fryer. The cooking takes about three hours as they work through the chicken, lamb and beef. During this time they will also cut and prep the vegetables.
11:00am: Cart officially opens for business.