By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — A food truck fight has taken to the streets of the Upper West Side, where opponents claim the mobile eateries are taking over, threatening the environment, destroying quality of life and harming local businesses.
While the truck vendors are rising in popularity, earning culinary awards and catering upscale events, residents of West 68th Street and Broadway complain that they are noisy polluters that hog parking spots and siphon customers away from neighborhood stores.
"We all pay a lot of money to live where we're living and it just makes the street look horrible," said Gladys Bourdain, a 26-year resident of the Dorchester Towers apartments on West 68th Street. "If this is the standard that we're going to live by, we might as well give up and live in a slum."
Bourdain is one of several angry residents who recently demanded that Community Board 7 crack down on food trucks.
They say the Pot Luck Cafe truck on the southwest corner of West 68th and Broadway is guilty of a long list of misdeeds, including running a gas generator non-stop, permanently comandeering parking spots and not paying rent or taxes that boost the local economy.
One neighbor is so fed up that he's started videotaping alleged illegal behavior by the Pot Luck Cafe's owners and employees.
The vitriol is nothing new in Manhattan. Upper East Siders successfully ousted a taco truck from Lexington Avenue and East 86th Street. Earlier this month, Midtown cops booted food trucks after complaints from local businesses.
But the trucks have their fans. Thousands of foodies follow gourmet food trucks on Twitter. The Parks Department installed four high-end food trucks at the former site of Tavern on the Green restaurant last fall.
"There's an assumption that these food vendors are an unmitigated nuisance to be eliminated like bed bugs," said Community Board 7 member Ken Coughlin at a recent meeting. "But it can be argued that they add to the vibrancy of the neighborhood."
Dorchester Towers board member Stacie Handwerker says vibrancy is fine with her — in small doses.
"The amount (of food trucks) we have right now, it's the wild west," Handwerker said. "You give them a hand, they'll take an arm. They need to be regulated like any other business is regulated."
Handwerker worries that the Century 21 store opening this fall on Broadway and West 66th Street will bring an influx of tourists to the neighborhood, and even more food trucks will follow.
Angry residents and food vendors do agree on one point — both sides say there's a frustrating lack of clarity about the rules governing food trucks and which agencies administer them.
Pot Luck Cafe co-owners Eddie Prokopiak and Joseph Okolie say they started their food truck business in January, after 10 years of waiting for a license.
"I earned it, and now some people want to take it away from me," said Prokopiak. "I don't want to give it up that easy."
Prokopiak, 81, is a Korean War veteran who signed up for a vending license after he retired as an MTA train dispatcher. Okolie, a 45-year-old Nigerian immigrant who's married to Prokopiak's daughter, helps him run the truck.
They say they invested between $75,000 and $100,000 in their truck, which is open daily from roughly 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and employs two workers.
The truck's $3 slices of pizza and $5 philly cheesesteaks are popular with doormen, building staff and employees from the Apple Store, Food Emporium, Bed, Bath and Beyond and the nearby Metropolitan Opera, Prokopiak said.
Prokopiak and Okolie say they need to park in the same spots every day so they can build a loyal customer base.
"Some people resent the fact tht we're here every day and they can't park their car here," Prokopiak said. "They don't want us here. It's an upscale neighborhood, supposedly, and this type of vehicle is not supposed to be here."