The beloved Latino food stalls of Red Hook Park will return to their traditional haunt this weekend — and the grand re-opening couldn’t come a moment too soon for vendors, who have racked up tens of thousands of dollars in debt to comply with tightened city regulations.
At least six of the 13 merchants who tend the stands that have sold an eclectic range of Pan-American edibles since 1974 will open on Saturday for the first time this year — almost three months later than normal.
The financial costs of purchasing and retrofitting carts, combined with half a season of lost sales, have sent many vendors deep into the red. In fact, three food vendors have said they won’t bother to return.
“The losses are major,” said Marcos Lainez, who operates a Salvadoran papusa cart. “It’s going to take at least two and a half years to recover all the money we have lost.”
Lainez shelled out $35,000 to get a legal stand and upgrade it, and is rushing to get last-minute repairs made so he can pass a city inspection to start selling the bean–and–cheese filled tortillas this weekend.
The burden for other vendors is even heavier.
Pamela Martinez told The Brooklyn Paper that her father spent $45,000–$50,000 to ready his cart for Mexican treats like tacos and huaraches.
“We’re out three months of work,” Martinez said.
Part of the delay for several of the vendors came from a Queens repairman who took many weeks longer than promised to overhaul their mobile units and bring them up to the newly tightened city requirements.
The city’s stricter supervision of the vendors was also at the root of the problem. Last June, the Parks Department decided to stop issuing annual permits to the vendors and forced them to go through an open bidding process, despite having served their jugos, tacos and ceviches for adoring crowds (including Sen. Charles “Chimichanga Chuck” Schumer) for decades with little oversight from the city.
The Parks Department decision led to stepped-up Health Department inspections of the site, which found violations in the food stands. The Health Department was on the verge of shutting down the market, but backed off when public outrage — led by Schumer and other outraged foodies — reached a fevered pitch.
Finally, in March, the vendors were told they had won the right to return to the park, but their return had been tied up in bureaucracy since then.
Red Hook food vendors, Saturday and Sunday at Red Hook Park (Bay Street between Clinton and Henry streets in Red Hook), 10 am–7 pm.