Bay Ridge food vendor battle brought to mayor’s office

The food vendor controversy centered on the corner of 86th Street and Fifth Avenue has grown from a neighborhood dispute to a citywide legislative debate, with the issue of Sammy Kassen and his cart now in the hands of Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway.

“This is much bigger than Bay Ridge; this is a citywide issue,” said Joanne Seminara, chair of Community Board 10, at its monthly meeting on May 21. “The rules seem to disparately affect food carts. We are trying to iron it out. Until the law is changed, we will have to deal with this.”

According to Justin Brannan, chief of communications for Councilmember Vincent Gentile, general sidewalk vending has always been restricted within the confines of the 86th Street Business Improvement District, in which merchants pay extra taxes and fees for additional services, such as more frequent corner trash can pickups, sidewalk sweeping and security.

Since 2008, Gentile has been trying to have “mobile food vendors” specifically added to the wording governing the existing “vendor-free zone,” which currently bans general vending, but not food vending.

“Plain and simple, we need to level the playing field. The mobile food vendors of today should be held to the same standards as any brick and mortar restaurant,” Brannan said. “Ultimately, the city needs to enact clearer guidelines when it comes to sharing our streets with mobile food vendors. Right now we exist in a legal gray area with a bunch of arcane, labyrinthine laws – some of which plainly contradict other existing laws. What we need are guidelines that state, in no uncertain terms, the rules and regulations concerning the licensing, regulation and placement of food carts on city streets.”

Gentile announced at the Community Board 10 meeting that Holloway is “looking for a new approach” to this issue and will discuss it further shortly.

“We have received calls from residents, district managers and chairpersons from community boards all over the city [regarding this matter],” Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10 said. “It’s a broader, citywide issue.”

But the matter hit very close to home when benches appeared where Kassen’s cart is licensed to be in late March. No one has accepted responsibility for the act, but Habib Joudeh said that after several extensive meetings, residents and elected officials came to a “semi-agreement” that the benches had been removed from the 86th Street BID.

“It will cost $425 to remove the benches [from their wrongful spot],” Joudeh said. “When someone takes the law into his own hands, it’s not fair. It’s not fair to remove benches wherever you want. It’s putting a crack into our community.”

Tony Gentile, proprietor of Lonestar Bar and Grill, has been outspoken with his opposition to Kassen’s cart and called for the removal of all food vendors in Bay Ridge.

“We are a no vending zone and we want food included in that no vending zone,” he told this paper. “They have to be graded by the Board of Health like we are. Make him [Kassen] be responsible for the food and make him drive the prices up. Unless that is done, our fight is far from over.”

Kassen has hired a lawyer and has said he is willing to take the issue to court.

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