By Julie Shapiro
TRIBECA — A battle between a swank French restaurant and a halal food cart is unfolding on one of TriBeCa’s busiest street corners.
On one side is Plein Sud, a bistro that opened last month on the ground floor of the Smyth Hotel on Chambers Street, offering seasonal French entrees for $16 and up.
On the other side is Mounir Bouabane, who has run a halal cart on the same corner since 2007, offering a hefty portion of chicken and rice for $5.
Bouabane, 35, said the trouble started about six months ago, before Plein Sud opened, when the owners began harassing him to move his cart. Bouabane said the bistro owners stepped up their threats last month and have called in NYPD and Health Department inspectors more than 50 times. Whenever the inspectors show up, Bouabane has to close down his cart for them and loses business, he said.
“They think of us like mosquitoes,” Bouabane said of Plein Sud. “They’re the big guys. But this is our city. It doesn’t work like that.”
Bouabane said the inspectors initially found that he was too close to Plein Sud’s entrance, so he moved his cart a few feet. He has a permit and said he is operating legally, so there is nothing Plein Sud can do to get rid of him.
A spokeswoman for Plein Sud said the restaurant was concerned about the food cart’s trash piling up on the sidewalk. The spokeswoman said Plein Sud installed curtains so diners would not have to see the cart.
Asked about Bouabane’s harassment allegations, the spokeswoman declined to comment.
The turf war ratcheted up last week when Bouabane, fed up, posted bright, marker-scrawled signs on the side of his cart.
“HI Gangsters of Plein Sud,” he wrote. “Guess What!! We Are Not Moving.”
The sign details the “intimidation harassment” Bouabane said he has faced and concludes, “We want to tell them that’s not the way it works in TriBeCa. Maybe in France.” Bouabane appended a smiley face there, to show he has a sense of humor.
Many people stopped to read Bouabane’s sign Monday morning, about a week after he put it up.
“I don’t see any reason why they should move,” said Daniel Kanovic, 15, a student at Stuyvesant High School. “Sure it’s competition, but that’s normal.”
A 52-year-old man who said he helped build Plein Sud stopped by the food cart for a hotdog and a soda and said he hoped the cart would win the fight.
“His business ain’t going to interfere with their business,” said the man, who did not give his name for fear of damaging his relationship with Plein Sud. “Everybody’s got a right to make a living.”
Bouabane, who also owns a food cart near the World Trade Center site, said he has gotten a mostly positive response from his neighbors.
“I want to tell everyone what’s going on,” he said, “so they can decide who’s bad and who’s not bad.”