By Jill Colvin
MIDTOWN — Food truck drivers say police have banished them from two Midtown blocks that have long been among the city's most popular lunchtime destinations.
Drivers say police began informing them about two weeks ago they were no longer welcome on West 52nd Street and West 51st, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, because of escalating complaints from nearby building owners. The blocks had previously been on the rotation schedules of many of the city's most popular food trucks, whose legions have been growing at a rapid pace.
"They were saying it's off-limits now," said a distressed Oleg Voss, 29, of the popular two-year-old Schnitzel and Things truck, which has long spent its Thursday afternoons on West 52nd Street.
"They said everybody can't vend from a metered location," he said.
Edin Bektesevik, 25, of the Balkan Cevap Truck, said he'd been booted from his regular location on West 51st Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, twice by police in recent weeks, even though he'd never had any trouble there before.
"It looks like somebody complained," he said, parked a block away, on West 52nd street, where he was the only truck left on the once-busy block on a recent afternoon.
He and others said being forced to move after establishing a following in a particular location is a huge blow to business, especially since being booted typically means having to close for the day.
"It's not fair," said Bektesevik, complaining that local restaurants are unfairly targeting food trucks because they see them as competition.
"We're just trying to make a buck," he said. "For us this is [about] surviving."
Less than an hour later, the truck's twitter feed announced it had been booted from that spot, too.
"Unfortunately police closed us down :-(. Stay tune for further info," It read.
According to a source at the Midtown North Precinct, police have received complaints from local business owners about the trucks. The source said police have responded with enforcement action, but have not "stepped up" enforcement in recent weeks.
The source said he was also unaware of drivers being told they were no longer welcome on the blocks.
But hungry Midtown lunchers said something had changed.
"What's the deal?" asked West Village resident Jordan Nodel, 31, who works in the neighborhood and typically grabs lunch from local trucks about twice a week.
"This area used to be a great location for trucks to make a weekly stop and lately there's been an noticeable absence."
"Obviously people love food trucks. They're delivering better food than the generic midtown lunch delis, and during the summer, it's great to be outside."
One problem, vendors say, is a February decision by a Manhattan Supreme Court judge against Paty's Tacos on the Upper East Side that food trucks are subject to a city law that prohibits merchandise from being sold from metered parking spots.
The ruling set a precedent that police now appear to be enforcing, said food truck expert Perry Resnick, who runs the popular New York Street Food blog and recently launched a Midtown street food tour.
"They're obviously concerned," said Resnick, who said police have been booting food trucks from Hudson Street Downtown.
"There's definitely been more of a crackdown," he said.
But the biggest issue, drivers say, is the huge number of food trucks now on the road. The ranks appear to be growing by the week, with at least two new food trucks set to debut this week alone, according to food blog Midtown Lunch.
"There are a lot of new trucks and complaints from building owners that have tenants that pay a lot of money. It's not surprising," said Schnitzel and Things's Voss, who fears the trucks have become a victim of their own success.
To make matters worse, he said that instead of working to cultivate new locations of their own, many new truck drivers have been piggy-backing on intersections that long-standing trucks have already established, flooding certain blocks and raising businesses' ire.
"They're not only messing it up for me and other experienced trucks that have been out for years. They're messing it up for themselves," Voss complained.
The alleged crackdown has also forced many trucks to move south to West 50th Street, where DNAinfo counted 12 food vendors, including trucks and carts, huddled on one half of the block on a recent afternoon.
Even there, vendors are biding their time.
"We're very worried about this street. We're not sure if it's going to be the next one to go," said Adam Rule, 23, who runs six-month-old Crepes Truck, which has long included the block among its regular stops.
Voss was more skeptical.
"That spot's going to be off-limits very soon, I guarantee you," he said.