Latest Skirmish in Pushcart Wars: ‘Halal Mafia’ vs. Hot Dog Vendors

Row of food carts

Rows of food trucks and carts take up streets in Manhattan, much to the ire of local residents. (Jill Colvin/DNAinfo)

The latest skirmishes in the street vendor war made headlines in DNAinfo, this time with a bloody fight between halal and hot dog vendors at City Hall Park, and a SoHo meeting where residents voiced their frustration over what they see as lax enforcement of rules for food carts.

A fight between the two camps of food vendors got violent at City Hall Park on June 6, reported DNAinfo’s Jill Colvin, after a halal vendor allegedly beat a hot dog vendor with a cane, leaving the victim with bloodied clothes.

Hristos Serertas

Unlicensed hot dog vendor Hristos Serertas ignites a shouting match among street vendors at City Hall Park. (Photo by Jill Colvin/DNAinfo)

Police arrested the halal vendor, Jacques Sterlin, 66, charging him with assault against the unidentified hot dog vendor. Visit DNAinfo for photos of what went down.

The altercation began when an unlicensed hot dog vendor, Hristos Serertas, who oversees a team of workers that includes the victim, showed up and starting selling water bottles and hot dogs for $1, far lower than the prices of the other vendors. This upset his competitors, including Sterlin, and lead to a half-hour screaming match between Serertas and the other vendors, with Serertas calling them the “halal mafia.”

Fellow vendors said the disputes are nothing new.

“We have a problem here, these guys coming in a small hot dog cart… It kills business,” said one Halal vendor, who declined to give his name.

After the arrest, Parks Enforcement officers kicked Serertas and his cart out of the park and slapped him with a fine for vending without the proposer license, officials said.

Fines for street vendor violations were among the topics of discussion at a Community Board meeting 2 in Soho, reported Andrea Swalec for DNAinfo. Police officers that attended the meeting told residents — who have little appreciation for the neighborhood’s sidewalk-cramming food trucks and carts — that City Hall needs stricter rules when it comes to regulating vendors, including an increase in fines. NYPD lawyer Lt. Dan Albano called summonses issued to food vendors “almost meaningless.”

Albano added that the city also needs to clarify the tangle of widely misunderstood rules that govern street vendors.

Three separate agencies currently oversee vendors, each with a different set of regulations. The NYPD enforces where trucks and carts can set up; the Health Department monitors sanitation practices; and the Department of Environmental Protection checks whether trucks and carts threaten air quality.

The lieutenant mentioned that police and city officials are “working on a solution in the next few months,” but did not go into detail. He called vendor enforcement “something that is laborious, time-consuming and costs a lot money.”

While Albano said that for many vendors, the “$50 fine” for violating the rules is just the “cost of doing business,” street vendors have called the fines arbitrary and unreasonable, as other publications have noted.

SoHo resident Maury Schott denounced the city’s “lousily written laws” on street vending.

SoHo residents have long complained that food trucks and carts litter neighborhood streets as their engines and generators spew smoke and shake apartments, in some places for 24 hours a day.

And they claim the problem is getting worse.

Local resident Pier Consagra said he counted 117 food and non-food vendors on Broadway between East Houston and Grand streets on a recent Saturday.

WNYC also did some reporting on street vendors last week, investigating an issue that has seen some coverage in the ethnic press — the practice of renting out permits for food vendors at exorbitant rates, which some vendors have described as a “mafia.” The practice is not confined to small-scale immigrant vendors, WNYC found — it’s also the price of doing business for higher-end gourmet food trucks, who often pay up to $20,000 for a license that costs $200 at City Hall. Vendors told WNYC, as they had previously told El Diario, that the limited number of permits available account for the black market.

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