Hinsch’s owner: “Don’t blame the food cart”

January 14, 2013 Denise Romano
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When Ridgeites found out that their beloved Hinsch’s eatery was closing, many expressed their sadness.

However, some — including State Senator Marty Golden — blamed Bay Ridge’s food carts for driving away business from the famed diner.

“As Hinsch’s begins preparations to close within the next six weeks, I invite residents to go there for a final meal. Look out the windows while you are there and realize that in large part, the thriving food cart industry on the corner, has closed Hinsch’s,” Golden said in a statement sent to press on Friday, January 11. “The vendors have won this battle but we can’t allow this to continue. As they park on our sidewalks and serve food from their carts rent free, their impact on business has and continues to be felt.

“In this struggling economy, business paying rent and utilities are finding each day harder to compete against these carts, and for some, they reach a point when they know that there profit margin is gone forever,” he went on. “This is a sad day for Bay Ridge, for Brooklyn and for New York City.”

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But Roger Desmond, one of the owners of Hinsch’s, said his reason for closing has nothing to do with the food vendors.

“I don’t think we are trading customers,” Desmond told this paper, adding that the carts share patrons with McDonald’s and Burger King, not his eatery. “This is a specialty business and has been ingrained in the neighborhood for years. We are talking about sitting down and having a good cheeseburger and homemade ice cream or chocolates. Today, high school kids go to Burger King. That’s the reality.

“I don’t blame the food cart. The guy is making a living,” he went on. “It’s the inequities in the laws that are infuriating the brick-and-mortar guys.”

Desmond went onto say that the food carts are not subject to the same laws and fines that standing establishments are. “We have to pay fees that they don’t. That’s just one small example,” he said.

City Councilmember Vincent Gentile concurred. “I have been leading the fight to level the playing field when it comes to food carts for the past year and I welcome my colleagues who are new to the fight,” he remarked. “The mobile food vendors of today should be held to the same standards as brick-and-mortar restaurants. That being said, these vendors had no impact on Hinsch’s closing as Hinsch’s owner himself stated.”

Food cart customers agreed.

“If I want a hamburger, I go there [Hinsch’s]. If I want chicken over rice, I go over here,” explained Reem Dahoud, a Bay Ridge native. “I go [to Hinsch’s] for fries, too. But here, it’s cheaper and quicker. Five minutes, and you are in and out.”

Jay Ghrouf said that the demographics of the neighborhood are changing and many of Arabic descent prefer the Halal cuisine that the carts cook up.

“They have the same spices that their moms make,” she said. “We don’t even to go brick-and-mortar Arab restaurants anymore.”

Sammy Kassen, the halal food vendor whose cart is on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 86th Street, told this paper it was “unfair” to make him a scapegoat.

“Like any other business, I have expenses and bills. You know, the economy is rough,” he said. “I wish the best for Hinsch’s, but what can you do?”

When Golden spoke with this paper, he insisted that the “inequities of the law” is the reason for Hinsch’s closure.

“Don’t put carts where they don’t belong. There has to be a uniform rule… that allows communities to have these types of vendors,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the type of person [they are], not about race or religion, who is selling or not selling; it’s about the bottom line of businesses being able to do business in the city of New York and how difficult it is to do business. It’s not fair.”

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