The pair of controversial benches illegally bolted onto Fifth Avenue to displace a gyro cart have become welcome lunchtime seating, say food vendor customers who want to relax while they eat their chicken on rice and falafels.
Customers claim the benches that were installed under the cover of darkness and forced workers for the so-named Middle Eastern Halal Cart to move further down the block is making the gyro seller more popular — and is drawing customers away from its main competitor, the Halal Express food cart parked on the other side of 86th Street.
“They both sell the same thing, but I know there’s seating here, so I come here,” said Michael Rodriguez, as he demolished a platter of food on one of the benches.
His friend Kyle Stefano agreed that the seats have made the Middle Eastern Halal Cart more appealing than its rival.
“Instead of having to stand over there, we can sit here,” he said.
Ahmad Ibrahim, another regular, said the benches were a business booster for the gyro cart.
“I think it helps them,” he added. “You always see the people sitting here eating the food.”
Yet this turnaround remains an unsavory deal for cart manager Sammy Kassen, who still wants the street seats removed.
“Leaving them just shows anybody can do whatever they want,” said Kassen, skimming over the bench’s apparent economic advantages. “They’re good for business, but they shouldn’t be here.”
And there’s another downside: a visit to Fifth Avenue and 86th Street last week proved that the benches weren’t only being used by Kassen’s customers — but a handful of homeless people were also found relaxing on the benches.
Brick-and-mortar restaurants pay nearly $3,000 in city fees for al fresco dining. Kassen got his for free — and the group that is responsible for street furniture in the area isn’t going to do a thing about it.
“We’re not talking about benches anymore,” said Pat Condren, whose group refused an offer by Bay Ridge drug store owner Habib Joudeh to pay for the removal. “We’re moving on.”