The gyro seller that has become the symbol of Bay Ridge’s brewing food-vendor battle is operating illegally, this paper has learned — and now brick-and-mortar businesses are demanding the controversial food cart be booted from Bay Ridge for good.
Sammy Kassen, who manages the so-named Middle Eastern Halal Cart — which was displaced in March after someone bolted two benches onto his usual spot near 86th Street under the cover of darkness — is renting both the cart and the permit from its rightful owner, an arrangement that’s forbidden under city rules.
“It’s not legal to rent a permit or to rent a cart with a permit,” a Health Department spokesperson said.
The news only outraged longtime opponents of Kassen and the Middle Eastern Halal Cart, who are now calling for immediate police action.
“They should be arrested and the cart should be taken from them,” said Tony Gentile, the owner of the Lone Star Bar and leader of Save Our Streets — an anti-food cart alliance of Bay Ridge business owners that took over Kassen’s Fifth Avenue spot for two days in April.
According to Health Department regulations, the city can seize a food cart that doesn’t have proper permits or is operating illegally.
Yet Kassen denied any wrongdoing, claiming that everything he’s doing is above board.
“This is a great business, the inspectors love us, why would we ruin it by breaking the law?” said Kassen.
Kassen admits to renting the cart — which he claims is legal, even though city officials say otherwise.
Sean Basinski, an attorney with the Street Vendor Project who has issued cease-and-desist letters against Gentile and other cart critics, said that Kassen’s apparent violation of city rules is no big deal.
“Jaywalking’s a crime, but it’s an open secret that people jaywalk, and it’s an open secret that people rent permits,” the attorney said.
Basinski estimated that 60 percent of all vendors rent the numbered stickers found slapped on the sides of food carts, and added that his organization is calling for the city to issue more vending certificates to cut down on illegal subletting.
Kassen declined to say how much he pays the cart owner, but Basinski said the going rate for the two-year permit is $15,000 — a whopping 750 percent profit for the permit holder, who pays the city just $200 for the license to grill.
“The answer to the problem of the black market is to put out more permits,” said Basinski.
The city has printed approximately 3,000 mobile food vending permits and is no longer granting new ones. More than 2,000 food vendor applicants are on a Department of Health waiting list, hoping that a current permit holder violates the law and loses his permit.
Kassen has repeatedly claimed that the owner of the cart was a man named Abu Asus, who was living in Jerusalem. But the city says that the actual permit holder is East Elmhurst resident Dimitrios Alexatos.
Alexatos declined to comment for this story. Kassen admitted that he speaks to the Queens resident frequently, but refused to say what their exact relationship is.
It’s unclear if the city will take action against Kassen, but it didn’t remove the benches that were illegally bolted onto Kassen’s favorite selling spot three months ago.