With the economy in a downtown, Bedford Avenue’s restaurants are scapegoating nearby food trucks for threatening their bottom line in the neighborhood’s viciously competitive restaurant row.
Vendors such as the Endless Summer and Van Leeuwen ice cream trucks have been Bedford Avenue destinations in their own right, attracting hungry hipsters seeking cheap and speedy late-night service.
But businesses are grumbling. In a neighborhood where commercial rents are increasing, business owners view street vendors as the sleek and inexpensive enemy.
“They affect business in the area in a pretty detrimental way,” said Blackbird Café owner Emmanuel Cris. “It’s tough enough to pay rent in this neighborhood.”
According to one restaurant manager, who declined to give her name, merchants are threatened by the carts but “nobody wants to be the one to kick the taco trucks out.”
Other businesses have more specific complaints. A restaurant manager at Tai Thai said that the owner complained to the police about the Endless Summer taco truck’s garbage and is unhappy that the truck is parked across the street from his restaurant. The owner of New York Muffins on N. Sixth Street also believes that the truck’s owners are not cleaning it up properly.
“When you come to Bedford Avenue in the morning, the neighborhood stinks because of them. They drop all their disposals in the sewer,” said New York Muffins owner Mike, who declined to give his last name.
The co-owners of Endless Summer maintain that they are operating within their rights as a vendor — and that none of the neighbors has approached with any concerns.
The larger picture is that business owners are concerned about street vendors because they feel that the presence of food trucks is unfair to their business, according to East Williamsburg Valley Industrial Development Corporation Executive Director Leah Archibald.
“They’re paying rent, electricity and insurance on their retail shops and vendors are competition for businesses that don’t have the same overhead that retail merchants are responsible for covering,” said Archibald.
A few years from now, those street vendors could be restaurateurs, like Ben Van Leeuwen of Van Leeuwen Ice Cream. Now with a storefront on Manhattan Avenue, Van Leeuwen conceded that it would be weird if an ice cream truck parked in front of his shop, but defended the presence of street vendors as a way of launching a small business without expensive start-up costs.
“It’s grab-and-go food,” said Van Leeuwen. “Too many people worry about stamping out competition and do not spend enough time worrying about making their product good.”