Browsing articles in "food cart"
Oct 24, 2014
Jim Benson

More food varieties make their move to York by food-cart

The sole mobile food vendor in the City of York may soon have company from other cart businesses. York council members passed an ordinance to allow up to 26 food-carts in and around downtown.

Darren Borodin makes a living by selling hot dogs. He says, “It gives me an opportunity with the hours that I work to be there for my children. I’m a single dad raising 3 kids.”

Darren’s the only licensed York City vendor. But come January, he’ll share Continental Square with other vendors. This week, York City Council members passed an ordinance which could bring as many as 25 more carts.

Darren says, “I think it could bring more diversity, bring people who wouldn’t normally be here downtown.”

Darren will continue to serve customers, but he’s concerned. Under the new ordinance, he’s not guaranteed a spot.

He says, “You have to renew your process and if someone wants the spot you have, you go into this lottery. A businessman could lose its spot.”

Council Member, Henry Nixon says, “Bidding provision is real simple. It’s the value of real estate, that’s the American Way. If you’ve got this piece of real estate and 2 people want it, let’s give it to the highest bidder.”

Nixon says vendors can begin applying for a spot with the city next month. They’ll pay a $325 license fee.

Nixon says, “It’s revenue generating, not a huge amount but it’s more an atmosphere-this a happening place.”

Vendors would be guaranteed a spot for two years. For Darren, a permanent place is how he wants to run business.

He says, “You should be able to operate as long as you’re not violating procedures, stay in business.”

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Oct 24, 2014
Jim Benson

Elk Horn Brewing moves up from food cart to hot new pub on Franklin Boulevard … – The Oregonian

Delacata must have been one fancy food cart.

Readers of this website chose, by a wide margin, Delacata as the best food cart in Eugene/Springfield. Only problem was, when I has in town recently, the food cart had closed and the owners had opened a restaurant.

Elk Horn Brewing has already become one of Eugene’s favorite casual dining locations, loved as much as the food cart (which may open again next spring).

The new brewery and pub are located at the intersection of Hilyard Street and Fanrklin Boulevard, though it carries a Broadway address. The location is a booming part of Eugene, in the intermixing area of the UO campus and downtown fringe (close enough to walk from both).

Across the street there is a 10-story luxury student housing complex going up.

Elk Horn is located in a building that used to house Carl’s Jr., the fast food dining chain that had offices down in the basement while hamburgers went out the door at street level.

Now, the beer is being brewed downstairs and southern cooking is being served on the main level. tThere’s also an upper dining area, with two big garage-type doors that can be rolled up to let in the air. There’s also a large outdoor dining patio.

The interior decor is pallet boards, donated by businesses all around the city and nailed in pieces to the walls. It sounds tacky, but they did a really nice job. To fit the hunting motif of the pub’s name, numerous animal mounts are displayed on the walls. Those were donated, too, and give the place more of a natural history museum ambience than one of blood and gore.

Stephen Sheehan is the go-getter who owns and runs the place, along with his wife, Colleen. She’s from Eugene and he’s from Tupelo, Miss., and both can only home their states play each other down the road in the college football playoff.

The southern food smells so good it threatens to snarl traffic out on Franklin Boulevard. And some of the beer gets aged in wine barrels from Sweet Cheeks Winery.

The food cart may have gotten the votes, but it’s the brick and mortar Elk Horn Brewing that’s getting the customers now. The restaurant is at 686 E. Broadway and the cart at 725 Olive St. Go to for more.

More food carts that received reader support:

Wrap City, in Kesey Square, downtown Eugene, intersection of Willamette and Broadway.

Uly’s Taco Shack, corner of Kincaid and 13th at the west entrance to UO campus, and downtown at Olive and Broadway.

Party Cart, this cart has grown into the brick and mortar bar/restaurant Party Downtown, 64 W. Eighth Alley, or enter at 55 W. Broadway, Eugene.

Cart de Frisco, 13th and Kincaid, also at the west entrance to the UO campus near the UO Bookstore.

– Terry Richard

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Oct 23, 2014
Jim Benson

Erwin board has no taste for food cart

Brad Hicks

Erwin Bureau Chief
Read More From Brad Hicks

Local News
Business Technology

October 22nd, 2014 9:24 pm by Brad Hicks

ERWIN — While Lewis Carsten said he has no intention of giving up barbecuing, he’s not yet sure where he’ll continue to ply his craft.

But Carsten said he knows it will not be within the town of Erwin.

Members present at a Wednesday meeting of the Erwin Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously voted to affirm a zoning ordinance violation previously levied against Hillbilly Butts and Brisket BBQ, the mobile food cart Carsten owns with his wife. The affirmation of the violation means the Carstens have 30 days from the issuance of the letter to either shutdown Hillbilly Butts or relocate the business or face fines for each day they operate after the 30-day period.

“I’m sorry for all our customers here that we’re not going to be able to stay,” Carsten said following the decision. “That would have been our preference, but I’ve got to comply whether I like it or not.”

On Oct. 16, the Carstens, who opened the Hillbilly Butts and Brisket BBQ food cart in June, received a letter from the town notifying them their business has been in violation of the town’s zoning code since Aug. 18. According to that letter, written by Erwin Code Enforcement Official Michael Borders, the Carstens’ mobile food unit was not “expressly permitted” within the town’s B-2 arterial business district where it was located.

Prior to Wednesday’s vote, Borders told members of the board that allowed uses in the B-2 district include hotels and motels, restaurants, offices, funeral homes, places of amusement and assembly, auto and mobile home sales, and public and semi-public buildings and uses.

“It is my decision that the mobile food unit does not conform to the uses provided in Section 705,” Borders said.

Carsten also spoke before the board made it decision. He said before opening the food cart, he met with county and town officials on multiple occasions and no zoning issues were brought up by these officials. Carsten said he received permission from the property owner to set up his food cart at 1119 North Main Avenue and began leasing that property. Carsten also said he obtained the propert business licenses and permits from Washington County, adding that he was advised by town and county officials they would be honored here.

“I think it’s an injustice that in meetings prior to this and to receiving the letter last Thursday, especially before we even came here, it never happened,” Carsten said to the board. “Nobody said there was an issue with zoning.

“Folks, if the city had told us prior to us coming here, in meetings prior to us setting up, that there was an issue, we wouldn’t be here. We didn’t come here looking for a fight. We didn’t come here looking for trouble. We’re retired. We have kinfolks in the area. We wanted to be in an incredibly safe town that we have kinfolks in, do our business, and that’s all we wanted. We didn’t come here to start trouble. We didn’t come in here to be an issue. We came in here to sell a little barbeque and make some more friends in this town.”

Carsten said he met with town officials around a month ago to discuss future plans for his business. He said he advised officials that he wished to continue selling his fare from the cart through this winter, with the hopes of being able to move into a “brick and mortar” establishment by the spring. Carsten added that he and his wife had looked at possible restaurant locations within Unicoi County, including the former Toby’s Cafe location on Carolina Avenue and a location near Exit 40 along the Jackson Love Highway.

“It was never our intent to stay in that trailer,” Carsten said, “but it was our intent to stay in the trailer long enough to try to make enough money to get into a brick and mortar situation, whether it was leased or bought.”

Prior to the board’s vote, planner Ross Phillips with the First Tennessee Development District advised the board that it would be voting to affirm, deny or amend Carsten’s appeal of the administrative decision. Aldermen Sue Jean Wilson, who serves on the Board of Zoning Appeals, moved that the decision be affirmed. Fellow board members Betty Chandler and Roland Bailey also voted in favor of affirming the decision. Board members Doris Hensley, Erwin mayor, and Clyde Griffith were not present at Wednesday’s meeting.

Others in attendance spoke after the board’s decision. Hillbilly Butts co-owner Pat Carsten questioned the reason for the move.

“Is it the parking?” she asked. “Is it the way our tailer looks? What is it?”

Michael Baker, candidate for Erwin alderman, asked the board why other similarly-operated businesses, such as the Randy’s Produce stand and a trailer selling furniture in the parking lot of the Tractor Supply location on North Main Avenue, did not receive similar letters.

“You’re just choosing one business to tell them to get out,” Baker said.

Phillips said each circumstance is different and that the board was only set to consider the issue regarding Hillbilly Butts.

“There’s a lot of different facts that we consider,” Phillips said. “When I first looked at this, I looked at ways of trying to fit it into the zoning ordinance so that it was a permanent use. I wasn’t going into it trying to say ‘We want to shut this business down.’ That’s not how I look at things.”

Standing outside Erwin Town Hall following the board’s vote, Carsten said the panel’s decision was disappointing but expected.

“We’ve though about it and thought about it,” he said. “We were really praying that this didn’t happen but, in my heart, I knew they had to back (Borders) up. They had to. Right or wrong, he had to be backed up.”

After the Board of Zoning Appeals made its decision, the Erwin Planning Commission, which had recessed to consider the matter pertaining to Carsten’s mobile food unit, reconvened. The commission, made up of the same members of the Board of Zoning Appeals, opted to have town staff look into mobile food units for the possible development of an ordinance and bring information back to the Planning Commission in the future.

Following the meeting, Erwin Town Recorder Glenn Rosenoff said the Board of Zoning Appeals is limited in its powers and could only decide whether the Carstens’ business was in violation of the town’s zoning regulations based on the ordinance, adding that officials “thoroughly reviewed” the violation.

“They have boundaries on their decision,” he said. “Is it a zoning violation or is it not? Does it meet the minimum requirements of the ordinance or does it not? That is their only recourse.”

Rosenoff said he observed that Hillbilly Butts could be in violation of the zoning ordinance as early as May, prior to the business’ opening, and advised Carsten of the violation when he met with him in September. Rosenoff said zoning violations are typically enforced immediately, but Hillbilly Butts was essentially given temporary use of the trailer.

“We were not immediate in our action on the zoning violation,” Rosenoff said.

Carsten said he is not sure how much longer he will continue to operate Hillbilly Butts and Brisket BBQ in Erwin now that the board has decided its fate, but he said the move may lead to other opportunities for the business to grow elsewhere. He said he has received an invitation from the owner of the former Parson’s Son BBQ property in Jonesborough to set up there, as well as another invitation just before Wednesday’s meeting.

“We wanted to be here in Erwin and the people who are here, our customers, are fantastic. They truly are,” Carsten said. “They want us here, too, but there are those in town who don’t want us here and, obviously, they’ve got more pull in the city government than the people. So, bless their hearts, they can have it.”

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Oct 22, 2014
Jim Benson

Familiar FIB’s tops Madison’s 2014 food cart rankings

The official city of Madison food cart rankings for 2014 have been compiled and there’s a familiar name topping the list: FIB’s Fine Italian Beef and Sausage. FIB’s also topped the cart rankings in 2012.

To be clear, the FIB’s in question is the original FIB’s, also dubbed FIB’s 1, which vends at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Main Street on the Square. FIB’s opened a second cart in 2013 that has been vending on or near Library Mall; FIB’s 2 ranked 25th this year.

The number one ranking for FIB’s 1 is helped with its seven points for seven years of seniority, plus consistent Chicago-centric branding from the cart (complete with Chicago-themed tunes) to its focused menu and carefully prepped foods.

Every fall, a committee of two dozen or so enthusiastic cart-eaters, recruited by street vending coordinator Warren Hansen, eats at every cart during a two-week review period. (Full disclosure: This year, I was a member of the committee.) Committee members are charged with evaluating each cart on a number of criteria, and scores are weighted 40% to food, 40% to “apparatus” (which includes evaluating cart design for both visual appeal and service practicality, as well as cleanliness and maintenance) and 20% to originality (with regard to both menu and cart design). Committee members must visit 80% of the carts or their scores are not counted.

Points are added for seniority (this tops out at 7 years, though, no matter how long the cart has been vending); deductions are made by the city for health or vending code violations. Top carts get their first pick of sites for the following year. If a cart’s scores fall below 70, further work is deemed necessary before it is allowed to vend.

Two carts had deductions for “significant health or vending violations” — SoHo Gourmet with seven and Hibachi Hut with five. Most carts have no deductions or just one.

This year, 50 carts participated, down slightly from last year’s 53 carts, but still up from 2012′s 48.

Here are the top ten carts in the city’s official scoring for 2014:

  1. FIB’s 1
  2. Good Food 1
  3. El Burrito Loco
  4. Curt’s Gourmet Popcorn (MLK at Doty Street)
  5. Zen Sushi
  6. Slide
  7. Caracas Empanadas
  8. Teriyaki Samurai
  9. Surco Peruvian
  10. Fresh Cool Drinks

A slightly different view of the current cart scene results if one considers what the committee came up with from the review period only (including food, originality and appearance scores, but leaving aside seniority and demerits). It’s easy to see how seniority points can really affect the overall list.

Here’s this somewhat altered top ten:

  1. Good Food 1
  2. SoHo Gourmet
  3. Good Food 2
  4. Slide
  5. Melted
  6. Ladonia Cafe
  7. Caracas Empanadas
  8. Curd Girl
  9. FIB’s 1
  10. Umami Dumpling

Looking at the list this way shines a light on some of the up-and-coming carts like Slide, a non-burger slider sandwich cart; Melted, a fancy grilled cheese cart; Curd Girl, home to ethereal fried cheese curds and housemade dipping sauces, and Ladonia Cafe, which features “healthy comfort food” that also happens to be vegan.

Worth noting here are the high scores for Good Food 2, a brand new cart from Melanie Nelson, who has replicated her popular salad/wrap/soup cart (the original Good Food usually vends at Main and Pinckney Streets) with a somewhat different menu, although alike in concept. Good Food 2 was the highest-scoring of the new carts jockeying for spots in 2015.

For new carts that have not vended before and aim to start regular vending next season, overall scoring from the review committee looked like this:

  1. Good Food 2
  2. Cali Fresh (a.k.a. Marimar Mexican Fresh)
  3. Pagoda Smoothie
  4. Café Social
  5. Bulgogi Burrito 2
  6. Blair Street BBQ
  7. Imperial Pops
  8. Marimar on Wheels
  9. Say Cheese
  10. Johnson Public House

The lineup of future vendors lacks any radically new cuisine or food type for Madison carts (unlike last year’s high-scoring Melted, for instance, which brought the grilled cheese trend to town).

Two of these new carts (Bulgogi Burrito 2 and Pagoda Smoothies) have had previous menu incarnations (as Wei’s Food to Go and Tea Garden, respectively) but retain the same ownership, and so retain their seniority points for their final scores.

View the complete 2014 rankings.

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Oct 21, 2014
Jim Benson

Restaurant News: It’s no lie, FIB’s comes out on top in annual food cart review

John Handley, who owns and operates two food carts called FIB’s, one on the Capitol Square and one on Library Mall, earned the top ranking in the 2014 city of Madison food cart review.

FIB’s (for Fine Italian Beef and Sausage) beat out 49 other carts in the annual review, conducted on Library Mall and around the Capitol Square over 12 days between Sept. 22 through Oct. 4 by the city’s food cart review panel.

The panel included 27 reviewers invited by Madison Street Vending coordinator Warren Hansen, who released the results Tuesday.

Vendors were judged on food, appearance and originality. The higher the score, the more likely the cart owner will be assigned to the site they apply for in the following vending year.

The FIB’S 1 cart, selling mostly Italian beef and Italian sausage sandwiches, Chicago hot dogs and meatball sandwiches, got a near perfect score and also earned points for seniority since it’s been around seven years now.

Good Food, a 4-year-old cart serving wraps, salads and soups on the Square, near 33 E. Main St., came in second. El Burrito Loco, also on the Square, and in business for at least seven years, came in third.

Rounding out the top 10 were Curt’s Gourmet Popcorn; Zen Sushi; Slide, which offers creative meat and vegetarian slider burgers; Caracas Empanadas, Teriyaki Samurai, Surco Peruvian Food and Fresh Cool Drinks. 

The site assignments are permanent for the next vending year which runs April 15, 2015, through April 14, 2016, Hansen said.

There were 50 carts that were judged, and vendors received extra points for seniority and got docked points for health violations, he said.

Some carts will remain through the winter, particularly the ones on Library Mall which were displaced in recent months because on construction. 

“More of them may stay around to sort of recoup their losses. It’s almost over. It’s almost over,” Hansen said, noting that construction is supposed to be completed Oct. 31. “Fairly soon they are going to be able to return.”

Handley got into the food cart business after a career in advertising, knowing nothing about cooking. When people ask him what it’s like running the food cart, he tells them, “it’s like going camping twice a day and feeding all the campers.”

The name FIB’s was born out of the long-standing rivalry between Wisconsin and Illinois. When Handley moved his family here from Chicago in 1994 for an advertising job, his children were playing with some neighborhood kids and came back and said, “Dad, everybody’s calling us a FIB. What’s a FIB?”

“It was our first day in Wisconsin basically,” he said, adding that he told them a fib was “a lie.”

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Oct 21, 2014
Jim Benson

Papaya King Rolls Out New Food Cart Wednesday

(courtesy Papaya King)

Following the success of its brand new food truck, frankfurter purveyor Papaya King will launch an additional food cart for vending their delicious dogs. For its launch tomorrow, the cart will park outside of Macy’s in Herald Square, operating from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; the cart will also be available to rent for private events. There’s nothing more NYC than a hot dog cart at your wedding!

Or before a movie!

Prices are only a bit steeper than your classic dirty water dog—if you’ve visited a hot dog cart recently, hot dogs are sometimes $3.50 each, it’s ridiculous! Here, two dogs with a drink is just $7 or an extra 50 cents to add any two toppings like cheese or chili or onions. Other street classics like pretzels ($2) and knish ($2.50) are available, plus more State Fair-minded snacks like Fried Oreos ($4). Finally, it wouldn’t be PK without a tropical drink to accompany your tubed meat; they’ll offer flavors like mango and papaya for $3 each.

Papaya King Food Cart Menu 1

Papaya King Food Cart Menu 2

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Oct 20, 2014
Jim Benson

The NYC Cook Who Turned a Tiny Food Cart Into His Biggest Dream

NEW YORK, New York — On a hot Friday afternoon, a herd of customers flank both sides of the food cart, waiting on their South Indian fare. The phone rings loudly with takeout orders. Yet New York food vendor Thiru Kumar calmly shuffles between tasks, giving everyone due attention.

Better known as the Dosa Man, Kumar opened his tiny world-renowned cart, NY Dosas (a dosa is a South Indian crepe), in 2001. Soon he amassed a cult following; local and international patrons visit year-round to buy his inexpensive and flavorful street eats. His accolades are many: Listed in 42 countries’ guidebooks, his was the first vegan dosa cart in the world. He has fan clubs in California and Japan.

Today he serves crunchy, oily samosas stuffed with vegetables and potatoes. Hungry patrons chat while waiting in a long line; kids play in the park as cars zoom by, horns and sirens blaring. The frenzied pace is typical at the cart’s southwest corner location of Washington Square Park, where Kumar has parked since opening.

He talks of his life over the din of the city:

He’s from Jaffna, Sri Lanka.

Little potato and one samosa, boss?

He learned to cook from his mother and grandmother.

Mild? Spicy?

His first experiences cooking were for their family of six brothers and one sister — where he sometimes stole second helpings for himself, he laughs.

Samosa dosa, OK.

He steals a second to himself, and laughs.

Written up first by New York magazine in 2002, NY Dosas is covered with clips from newspapers around the world. Here is one from China, he says — and one from France, Japan and London. Kumar’s cart also displays the coveted Vendy Cup certificate, which he won in 2007 after years of being voted into the vending community’s yearly street food competition.

He usually works Monday through Saturday, from 12 to 3 p.m. — sometimes earlier, sometimes later, depending on the day. He simply stays until he runs out of food.

Kumar’s story is that of the American dream: An immigrant moves to New York City and makes it big with an idea. But Kumar’s story is also very much his own, that of a man who wanted to do things differently, a man ready to charge at even the biggest challenges.

Kumar spent his youth in Sri Lanka, cave diving in jungles and racing motorcycles on a makeshift track. As a diving instructor, he amassed a group of eager pupils; together, they explored far-flung locations previously undiscovered by humans.

Far from civilization (“No lifeguard, nothing… only animals rescue me” he says), he’d wake up early in the morning to cut vegetables and cook them with noodles, rice and fish on stones over a wood fire, smoke rising through the rich foliage of the jungle.

Later, as a travel agent at his own in company in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, Kumar took a business trip to Bangkok. He stopped by a particular food truck and inquired whether he could cook his own food. She allowed it, and he paid. He went back every subsequent trip to do the same.

“I thought, ‘This what I’m going to do one day,’” he remembers.

In 1990, at age 18, Kumar married his wife, Rajini, in a “love marriage,” atypical at the time. After fathering their now 4-year-old daughter, Sajini, Kumar won the green card lottery in 1995. So like many immigrants in search of better opportunities, Kumar and his family immigrated to New York City.

The family moved to Flushing, Queens, where some of New York’s small Sri Lankan community mixed with the bigger South Indian community. (“Still live there,” he says. “11355 — never changed the zip code.”) The two cultures are similar, especially when it comes to Kumar’s ethnic group, which speaks Tamil as its mother tongue and exists in populations from Sri Lanka to India to Malaysia to Mauritius. His own family is spread out from France to England to Canada.

At first, Kumar took whatever job he could get, his wife dedicated to the upkeep of the house and raising Sajini. He worked in construction; in a gas station; managing his friend’s restaurant, the Dosa Hutt, all the while inquiring about what it would take to start his own food cart. Sri Lanka hadn’t had a street food scene like Thailand. But New York, with its iconic hot dog and roasted peanut stands, did.

To open a food cart in the city takes two steps, explains Street Vendor Project’s staff attorney Matt Shapiro. As a nonprofit, SVP helps vendors with daily difficulties like ticketing, and builds a community that can make citywide change on their behalf. The first step is the license, administered by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and consisting of food safety classes and various certificates. Second, vendors require a permit, which includes applications, inspections and other steps. With these two components in hand, one can open a food cart.

But complications, of course, still arise. Only 4,000 permits can be doled out throughout the city at any given time. One can be stuck on the waiting list for 20 years, says Shapiro, so vendors often rent the permits for thousands of dollars or work for someone else.

After looking into exactly what was needed to open a cart, Kumar acquired the food vending license after three and a half years. Instead of trying to get a regular permit, though, he opted for a special one that allows him to vend specifically in Washington Square Park (the only place at the time with vegan restaurants, he says).

The permit would cost $27,000.

Kumar saved up for several years, designed his very own cart (akin to New York’s classic silver hot dog stands), and began telling family and friends that his new venture was a South Indian vegan food cart.

Those around him were skeptical.

“At that time, no one really sold anything other than hot dogs and pretzels on street carts,” says Kumar’s daughter Sajini, now 24. “It was unheard of to have Indian food, which is difficult to eat.”

But Kumar was adamant about his new idea.

At the time, he was transitioning from eating everything to a fully vegan diet, surrounded by friends with similar lifestyles. So he decided the cuisine he grew up with and loved would be what he served to customers: thin, addictive dosas; thick pancakes with vegetables, called uthappam; rich and doughy potato-filled appetizers, such as samosas and vegetable roti, cooked in a mixture of common Indian spices. He created some recipes based on what he knew; others he would invent.

He opened in December 2001. At the beginning, a “lot of yoga people, lot of celebrities” came to NY Dosas, he says. When the media got wind of his venture and SVP launched its now-famed Vendy Awards in 2005, though, business really picked up.

The Vendys are an annual picnic-style celebration, a fundraising effort and a way to highlight small business owners. Throughout the year, street food lovers nominate their favorite vendors, and a panel of celebrity judges votes on their favorites. Kumar was one of the Vendys’ first participants.

On this hot Friday afternoon, NY Dosas features fliers for the event’s 10-year anniversary: “Support NY Dosas at the Master’s Cup.” Past winners can’t compete for the Vendy Cup itself, but as this is an anniversary year, the Master’s Cup highlights winners past.

Saturday of the event, Kumar’s cart stands out among the rest, modest in its old-school style next to sleek, intimidating, brightly colored food trucks. As usual, the NY Dosas line never abets; people wait to try his signature Special Pondicherry, the dosa he invented and which won him 2007’s cup.

Vendors walk around the family-style event with samples — falafel, donuts, ice cream, German soul food, Bolivian lamb, French Canadian-inspired meals, pan-Asian. The judges sit in their own tent by the entrance, nodding to each other and taking notes in between bites from their paper plates.

Mexican food cart Calexico would win the Master’s Cup that day, and a different vegan food cart, Cinnamon Snail, the Vendy Cup.

Days start early for the Dosa Man, getting up at 4:45 or 5:45 a.m., depending on his errands. He meets up with his two or three morning helpers at the half-kitchen he rents from a Greek restaurant in Queens. He cooks for several hours before sitting down for breakfast.

This particular Monday morning, Kumar gets to his spot in the park around 11:15 as usual, pulling NY Dosas up a small hill and wedging in the bricks that hold the cart in place. A man walking by with his bicycle says, “What’s up, Dos?” and holds the cart as Kumar sets it up. “Thanks man,” says Kumar, and the man keeps walking.

He expands the green and white umbrella above the cart, which reads “Keep Parks Clean” (part of the permit’s regulations), turns on the grill and displays his numerous newspaper and magazine clips.

Within minutes, customers start inquiring when they can order.

Then he’s serving, inviting onlookers to watch him make the dosas, making sure orders are exactly right. Volunteers take down phone orders, count money and talk to customers. He’s not sure how many volunteers are in his network in total; 21 are registered, while others come sporadically to help with various aspects of the business.

Stanley Lee is one. A former NYU grad student focusing on international human rights, Lee first shouted out to Kumar from line in 2007, asking if he’d like some help, and has been volunteering ever since. Like Kumar, Lee’s parents immigrated to New York City, his father a political refugee from China’s Cultural Revolution.

When the food runs out at around 4 p.m., Kumar closes up shop, brings the cart back to its garage around the corner and drives back to his kitchen, where his team will help cut vegetables for the next day. He gets home around 9 or 10 p.m.

But Kumar has the boundless energy it all requires.

“He never sits still,” says daughter Sajini. “If I saw my dad sitting for hours in front of the TV I’d be like, ‘OK, what’s wrong.’”

At the stand that Monday morning, Kumar, gray-eyed and moustached, dons his graffiti-font “Thiru the Dosa Man” T-shirt. He also wears a baseball cap (part of the regulations) and a necklace of thick, brown rudraksha beads, a symbol of his devout Hinduism.

He tells stories about his customers as they order. This one is an NYU professor; his girlfriend comes here, too. This woman is from his hometown of Jaffna (“His dosas are as authentic as the ones we make at home,” she says). At one point, a man calls in an order. “Ya mon,” answers Kumar, “12:00 is ready … OK. One love,” he laughs and hangs up. “Rastafarian vegetarian. He can only have food here.”

Meanwhile, benches around the stand fill up with people devouring his lunches.

A longtime fan arrives to place her order. WNYC senior editor Andrea Bernstein comes back both for the dosas and the special attention. “It’s nice to get a little love with your lunch,” she says.

Food carts were not quite as popular in the NYU area when Kumar first started. Now, tens flank the streets of the school by night, which Kumar attributes to his popularity.

Kumar explains that others have, in fact, tried to emulate his dosa stand success. A man from a halal food truck tried to start a dosa cart on West 4th Street but closed within three months. A dosa cart has opened in Morningside Heights, as well.

“Me, no, I never scared of nothing,” Kumar says. “From small days, I don’t know, I never scared of nothing.”

Moreover, entrepreneurs are translating food cart success into bigger business ventures. A woman who made arepas in Jackson Heights recently opened her own restaurant. A few halal guys who had a stand on 53rd Street launched a brick and mortar location, too.

But what does success really mean to Kumar?

“Success mean as long as you satisfied what you’re doing, and then you pay all the bills, stay out of trouble — that’s enough success,” he says. “As long as you happy and you [make] surrounding people also happy, then you’re successful.”

So would he say that he’s successful?

“Of course, yeah!”

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Oct 16, 2014
Jim Benson

Drink Mobile

Tidbit Food Farm and Garden doesn’t look much like the apocalypse.

It’s a sunny
afternoon, and Portland’s newest food-cart pod—with 20 eateries, a
mobile apothecary and a school bus selling vintage dresses—is bustling
with families. An eight-deep selection of craft brews is served to
beer-garden patrons from a cart, while a mother squeezes pears under a
tent staffed by Canby’s Parsons Farms. An elderly Israeli man, standing
near the Aybla Grill cart, offers advice on hummus.

This scene is a
surprise from what we expected back in 2012—and even earlier this year.
Two years ago, the city tried desperately to stop the Oregon Liquor
Control Commission from allowing beer service from cart pods, saying it
would result in “increased crime, traffic accidents, fatalities, public
nuisances or other harms to the public safety.” That hasn’t happened,

June, Portland looked to be losing eight of its pods to development
within six months—including iconic pods Cartopia and Good Food Here,
which were both eventually saved from the ax. Not long before, the same
fate befell the lot four blocks from what’s now Tidbit, where
LEED-certified apartments now perch atop the site of the former D Street
Pod. The scene was looking grim.

So what saved the cart pod? To hear some cart operators tell it, beer.

The original
steel-wheeled potluck was a largely chaotic affair, predicated largely
on the real-estate nosedive of 2007 and 2008. From Big Ass Sandwiches to
Potato Champion, those early food carts were seemingly the only thing
that could grow on fallow real estate that suddenly looked about as
fertile as Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona. “I was stuck holding a
big chunk of land with a huge mortgage payment,” says Roger Goldingay
of the plot that now houses beer bar Prost! and the Mississippi
Marketplace pod. “Somebody asked me if I could put a food cart on it,
and I said yes.” Having the bar and carts together is enough to make the
pod financially stable.

developers are more willing to view food carts as a business unto
themselves, not merely a stopgap until they gather funding to plunk down
a condo. By the time Goldingay moved on to start massive cart pod
Cartlandia along the Springwater Trail on Southeast 82nd Avenue, he was
looking for property specifically to house food carts. And beer was
always part of the plan. It’s now served both out of a cart and in an
onsite bar called the Blue Room. Both licenses were opposed by the city
of Portland. But these days, Cartlandia is so busy that Goldingay
sometimes runs out to the parking lot to direct traffic.

“Now we’re a
destination for assisted living centers,” he says. “They come in their
buses and unload. Everybody comes. There are kids everywhere.” Goldingay
says that while he doesn’t make a lot from sales of beer, it widens the
carts’ audience. “It’s a nice thing to have a beer with a burger,” he

He’s not the only one
who sees booze as a key piece of the puzzle. Brunch truck Fried Egg I’m
in Love co-owner Jace Krause says business is “way up” since they
started serving beer and “Sangria-ciata” cocktails blending wine and San
Pellegrino. Just down from Tidbit, fine Italian food cart Artigiano now
serves wine and hosts live jazz. Even farther down Division, the A La
Carts Food Pavilion hosts a cocktail cart on weekends.

“Having a beer garden
was critical to the whole notion of having a seating area,” says Tidbit
co-founder Aaron Blake, who brought in Scout Beer Garden from Belmont’s
Good Food Here pod. “I think it’s everything, in a lot of ways. It
gives patrons an opportunity to have a drink, and it offers another
hub—another draw.”

and partner Christina Davis don’t own the property the cart pod sits
on; just like most restaurateurs, they scouted out property for the
business they wanted to start, and are working on a long-term lease.
Blake says in contrast to the more improvised food-cart pods of the
past, they are trying to create a more curated experience geared toward
the customers who patronize the pod.

“[Pods] aren’t always well thought out,” he says. “They just occupy the space. We wanted to take it to the next level.”

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