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Cops Tell Midtown Food Trucks to Hit the Road

By Alan Neuhauser | September 16, 2013 6:21pm
 Dozens of food trucks gathered on East 47th Street between Park and Madison avenues — until a crackdown by the city forced them to move from the area Friday, Sept. 13, 2013.
Food Trucks on East 47th Street
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MIDTOWN — A collection of food trucks that cops cleared out of East 47th Street between Park and Madison avenues late last week remained off the road Monday, to the disappointment of the office workers looking for a meal.

"The great thing about New York is you have diversity, and this area sort of summed it up, but they're taking that away," software engineer Peter Burnside, 41, said of the numerous food trucks that would regularly park on the stretch during weekday.

"I work at 58th and Fifth, but I would come all the way over here. You didn't even have to think about it, because there was so much to choose from."

Authorities' motivation to move the trucks was not immediately clear, as they have parked there for at least the past four years to capitalize on patrons in the office-rich area, vendors said.

George Price, 24, who works in banking, urged the city to find some way to allow the food trucks to return.

"They should work out an agreement so they can be here," he said. "They're just trying to work."

Police did not respond to requests for comment regarding the reasons for the action. The Department of Health, which issues permits for the trucks but does not dictate where they park, did not immediately return a request for comment.

"It really ruined our Friday lunch, and they said that if we came back, the trucks would be towed," said JJ Jensen, 35, an owner of the Phil's Steaks cheesesteak truck. "It's unfortunate because we developed a really good following there, and people that worked around there really liked the space."

Only three trucks were parked in the area around East 47th Street before lunchtime Monday, with two on Park Avenue just south of East 47th Street, and another on East 46th Street.

At its peak, the block and its surrounding streets attracted as many as two-dozen trucks an afternoon, even as they operated in a legal gray area. Although the Department of Health grants food trucks permits to cook and serve food, other regulations bar any vendor from selling merchandise in a metered parking spot, effectively prohibiting food trucks from parking on city streets across the five boroughs.

For years, police took a lenient approach to the food trucks on East 47th Street, writing tickets but largely holding off from kicking them out, vendors explained.

"They would overlook us," Jensen said. "We would go fight the tickets or write them off as the cost of doing business."

Nevertheless, he added, "anytime there's a ton of trucks in one area concentrated like that, it's just a matter of time before the cover gets blown."

The Friday crackdown, first reported by MidtownLunch.com, still caught most vendors off guard.

"We were surprised," said Faisal Hosein, 38, manager of the Seoul Food truck, one of the two trucks parked on Park Avenue on Monday. "It took us a little while to find another space. By the time we opened, it was around 1:30 [p.m.]"

His truck, as a result, lost "anywhere from a grand to $1,500," he said.

David Weber, president of the NYC Food Truck Association, issued a statement Monday asking for more concrete guidelines regarding food trucks.

"Much of this enforcement has been done using a law that is so old it refers to mobile vendors as 'hawkers' and 'hucksters,' he said. "Clearly, regulations pertaining to mobile vending need to be brought up to the norms of the 21st century. We're looking forward to developing an improved regulatory structure with City Council and the administration that meets the needs of all stakeholders, including the local community, the truck operators, and the truck patrons."