New York City’s food cart market is booming, from hot dogs and pretzels to coffee and bagels. But the dark underbelly of that market may come as a surprise to some, even as it sits right under their nose.
Food cart vendors, many of whom are new immigrants looking for a better life, work in excess of nine hours a day, six or seven days a week — and average less than $85 a day. Day laborers, shift workers, and even those owning their own carts are finding themselves trapped in a downward spiral, not even earning minimum wage.
Part of the black mark on the business of NYC food carts is the fact that even though a vendor may own the food cart and have a vendor’s license, it is someone else who controls the mobile food vending permit. This permit is used for financial leverage, forcing the vendor to share a portion of the food cart earnings (up to 40 percent) with the other party. In some cases, the permit may not even be in the owner’s name — it is “leased” from another owner, with whom the business is split.
Note: According to NYC administrative code, permits cannot be sold or transferred. However, there are thousands doing just this in New York’s — a black market for cart permits worth an estimated $15 million to $20 million a year. Read more