Business war on mobile food vendors picks up steam

May 3, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Paula Katinas
 
Who would have thought a falafel could cause so much agita!
 
The business community’s war on food vendors is continuing, as restaurant owners are busy lining up influential allies in their quest to get the city to crack down on the sidewalk sandwich shops.
 
“The laws were written when these places were pretzel stands and hot dog carts,” John Gallucci, president of the Bay Ridge 86th Street BID, complained recently to U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm. “Now, they’re mobile restaurants.”
 
The food vendors constitute an unfair competition against brick-and-mortar restaurants, whose owners have to deal with taxes, fees, having letter grades pasted on their front windows, and regular inspections from the New York City Health Department, Gallucci and other business leaders maintain.
 
The vendors tend to set up shop at commercial hubs or near subway stations where there is a great deal of foot traffic and, hopefully, hungry customers.
 
Last month, Community Board 10 went on the offensive against the food vendors, calling on the city to tighten the regulations governing the mobile eateries.
 
“The public theater around food carts in Bay Ridge and throughout New York City will continue for some time until and unless the city of New York enacts clear and meaningful guidelines concerning the licensing, regulation and placement of food ‘carts’ on city streets,” Board 10 Chair Joanne Seminara said at the board’s April 16 meeting.
 
“I use the term ‘carts’ lightly, as we have come to regard some of the carts as ‘stationary restaurants’ that in some months take up almost round-the-clock residence on our sidewalks,” Seminara said.
 
While food vendors can rule the sidewalks, small business owners in Bay Ridge can’t even so much as place a sandwich board advertisement on the sidewalks in front of their stores, Seminara said.
 
Councilman Vincent Gentile, who is sympathetic to business leaders, said he has requested a meeting with Robert Walsh, commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services, to discuss the issue.
 
Gentile said there are a lot of questions surrounding food vendors and the city. 
 
“Even if we have regulations in place, who is responsible for enforcement?” he asked.
 
Meanwhile, the food vendors continue to attract fans and support from a hungry and time-crunched public.
 
On a recent afternoon, a young woman was munching on a sandwich she had purchased from a Bay Ridge food vendor.
 
“It’s fast. It’s convenient, and the food is good. It’s great if you’re in a hurry. I don’t have time to sit in a restaurant,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used.


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