Sidewalk standoff over! Halal cart returns to old spot

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

The occupation of Fifth Avenue has ended.

The Save Our Streets campaign, an alliance of local business owners who displaced a popular gyro seller by setting up tables on Fifth Avenue, where they distributed literature protesting food wagons for the last two days, gave up its protest at 5 am on Wednesday, following a heated May Day.

Save Our Streets members, led by Lone Star Bar owner Tony Gentile, set up their tables at 7 am on Monday, preventing the Middle Eastern Halal Cart from opening at a prime spot near 86th Street.

But the campaign ultimately failed: Middle Eastern Halal Cart manager Sammy Kassen — who promised to circle his cart around the block until the Save Our Streets removed their tables — put his wagon further down Fifth Avenue toward 87th Street at 2 pm on Tuesday, rolling past the Save Our Streets table as well as a pair of benches that were mysteriously placed in the Middle Eastern Halal Cart’s old location on March 22.

Cart workers posted a message on its Facebook page, urging its 557 online fans to seek them out and support the food cart.

Carlo Salzarulo, who runs the A&S Pork Store on Fifth Avenue, said Middle Eastern Halal Cart workers shouted at the Save Our Streets members as they rolled by.

“The boys from the halal cart were yelling at the guys at the table, something like ‘I’m an American too,’ ” Salzarulo said.

But Kassen said Save Our Streets members were the ones acting up — and tried to stop them from opening further down the block by calling the police.

“We were trying to be the better person, trying to keep the peace,” Kassen said, adding that he had to wait for several hours before the police would allow them to start serving food. “They were one getting rowdy. They kept telling us, ‘You can’t open here, you can’t open here.’ ”

Kassen stayed with the cart until 11 pm, when his team was finally given permission to open up.

Once the Save Our Streets tables were down, Kassen moved his cart back to his favorite spot. The benches that began the food cart war, however, remain.

Gentile felt he and his team accomplished their goal of highlighting what they consider unequal treatment of food carts by the city. Food vendors only have to pay the city $200 for a two-year permit, while traditional businesses pay thousands in monthly rent, Gentile claimed.

“We made our point and it was time for us to pack out,” Gentile said. “If there’s no reform, or signs of reform in the law in 30 days, we will be back.”

But Bay Ridge residents not affiliated with Save Our Streets have begun their own movement — calling for peace on Fifth Avenue.

“I love this restaurant and I love that restaurant,” said Slavik Cucosh, pointing at both the Lone Star bar and Middle Eastern Halal Cart. “They should sit down like men and square it out. No more of the bulls— we saw yesterday.”

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at (718) 260–4507 or e-mail him at [email protected].