New York City’s food fighters

By Jet Beers

Whatever you’re craving for, you can get it fast and cheap at the food vendors in the streets of New York City. There are around 12000 to 15000 street vendors in the city, but only 5000 actually have a license. The competition between the trucks is immense, and the pressure is high. ‘Wheeler dealers’ who mostly moved here to make their American dream come true, are telling their stories and the struggles that come with their food vendor life.

Ahmed 19 yrs old – Egypt

“I’ve been living in New York for almost half a year. My brother came here to study, so I came with,” Ahmed says. “I can’t study here, because we don’t have enough courses, so instead I make the people happy with my halal food. Every day this food stand is placed on this spot by one of the drivers and then my day starts. Most of my colleagues from the Sabrett food chain are from Egypt, so we share the same culture. Being on the streets from 9am till 9pm, six days a week is tough, so on my days off it feels good to be in an environment  I’m familiar with. I’m not sure what my future goals are, so for now I’m just making money to make sure I can survive in this city.”

Mohammed  24 yrs old – Jordan

“I sell popcorn because it’s the only job I could get. I don’t really like the popcorn myself, but it pays the bills. Coming from a Middle Eastern country it’s very hard to find a good job or start business here in New York City. The reason I came to New York City is the money I could make here. By renting this food vendor I try to save up some money to provide my family back in Jordan. Having my own food vendor would be better, because I can be more independent, but without a green card I risk to be deported back to Jordan.”

Koszas 51 yrs old – Greece

“My parents came to New York City, because of the Greek economical crisis 40 years ago. I took over my dad’s restaurant and later started my own food truck. The difference between running restaurant and a food truck is the stress. As a food truck owner you have to deal with all the licensing, the fight of getting a good spot and once you think you can go home, you have to prepare for the next day. For a license I pay an average of 1000$ a month, which forced me to become a workaholic. Being in this business for 10 years now, I’m a well-known ‘wheeler dealer’. I have my contacts all around to make sure I can get the best spots. On 46st street, you’re only allowed to park your car from 10am, before that time the police will kick you out and give you a ticket. I’m quite slick, so I don’t join the food truck fight. Instead I bribe the coffee guy who comes here in the morning, and at 11:30 I take over his spot.”

Dennis 28 yrs old – Mexico

“I started El Toro Rojo together with my dad, since as a migrant he couldn’t work as a chef. He bought a truck and transformed it into this food truck. We might make it look easy, but this business is hard. I struggle to see the bright side of this job, since the government makes it almost impossible. I pay 20 to 24 thousand dollar for a two year permit that officially costs 200$. My dad has been on the waiting list for ten years for a license and still didn’t get one, so instead we buy it from resellers. Besides the license I have to pay for electricity, repairs, our employees and the tickets I get every day. Regardless if you have the license, the police still gives you a ticket of $65 for selling food on the streets. The real money we make through events and during the business season. The rivalry between trucks is big, since there’s a small availability of spots. For some location you have to wake up at 3am to park your truck. The only positive in this business is being your own boss and seeing your business growing bigger. At the moment we are working on our second food truck and my dream is to have three.”