Diehard fans of tacos, huaraches and papusas flocked to Red Hook last weekend to get a taste of history and, in between mouthfuls, wonder whether the Latin-American vendors who have sold their tasty fare for three decades will be allowed to return next year.
As the Parks Department announced earlier this summer, starting next year, the vendors will have to bid against other food purveyors for the right to reopen their stands in April — the first time they have had outside competition for the once-forlorn, now tourist-friendly, site.
“It’d be devastating if the vendors weren’t allowed back at Red Hook,” said Katie Kirk, a vendor fan. “Why ruin a good thing?”
Others were worried about the possible end of an era.
“Anyone who has ever eaten a hot dog in Central Park knows it would be a great cultural and gastronomical loss if they’re not allowed back,” said Nicholas Pecsok.
The city threw the vendors’ future into question when it announced in June that it wanted to formalize the permitting process at the ballfields, which are at Bay Street between Henry and Clinton streets. Instead of re-issuing a temporary permit, for which the 13 vendors pay $10,000 per season, the city raised the specter of a winner-take-all process by suddenly deciding to open the permits to outside bidders.
The prospect of losing their permits was only one thing the venders had to deal with this summer. After the Parks Department announced the open-bidding process, the Health Department started inspecting — supporters say harassing — the vendors more frequently.
But along the way, the vendors became a cause célèbre for everyone from Sen. Charles “Chimichanga Chuck” Schumer to gourmands who didn’t want to see authentic Latino cuisine replaced by the kind of generic frankfurter and pretzel stands that ring most city parks.
“All the prominence that the food vendors were given this year definitely helps,” said Cesar Fuentes, who represents the vendors (and was once one himself). “But we don’t know if we’re going to be back.”
The vendors’ return isn’t certain, but the Parks Department succumbed to pressure earlier this year when it said it would give the vendors “preference” in the application process that begins this month.
“We certainly appreciate all that they have done for the community and we would like to see them return,” said Parks spokesman Phil Abramson.