NYC’s Food Cart Black Market

Food Cart

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