City called in to end Ridge block war

Standoff! Brick-and-mortar merchants occupy food cart sites in Bay Ridge
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

The city’s Department of Small Business Services has been pulled into the ongoing turf war between Fifth Avenue merchants and food cart vendors — and are poised to make a decision that could boot vendors from the intersection for good.

Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) held a long-demanded meeting with the city agency last week, just a few days after the Save Our Streets campaign created by vendor-hating merchants displaced a controversial gyro cart from Fifth Avenue for two days at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 86th Street.

During the discussion, Gentile asked Department of Small Business staffers to reconvene the Food Vendor Review panel and enact a pilot program where the city can create vendor-free zones at certain intersections.

Small Business Services Deputy Commissioner Andrew Schwartz left the meeting promising to come up with a concrete plan for 86th Street and Fifth Avenue within the next two weeks. The agency could turn the intersection — and the streets surrounding it — into a vendor free zone, sending the Middle Eastern Halal Cart and other food vendors packing.

Calls to Sammy Kassen, the manager of the Middle Eastern Halal Cart, were not returned.

Councilman Gentile blasted the existing city regulations on food carts, claiming that they often contradict one another.

“The city needs to enact clearer guidelines when it comes to sharing our streets with mobile food vendors,” he said.

Save Our Streets founder Tony Gentile, the owner of the Lone Star bar on Fifth Avenue — who is not related to the Councilman — said the sit down with Deputy Commissioner Schwartz was a victory for his campaign.

“I think they will come back in favor,” the bar owner said. “But the only way this is going to end is if these restaurants on wheels are out of 86th Street.”

Tony Gentile said that his campaign already has “a backup plan in motion” if the Department of Small Business Services doesn’t take action against the food carts, but declined to elaborate on just what he has in mind.

Critics of the Middle Eastern Halal Cart have been known to execute covert plans to displace the gyro cart — and ruin Kassen’s day.

Back on March 22, Kassen’s cart was forced to relocate after two benches were mysteriously placed at his favorite hangout spot. No one has copped to moving the benches, which remain bolted to the sidewalk.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at (718) 260–4507 or e-mail him at [email protected]. https://twitter.com/#!/WillBredderman