Zach Brooks: Food Vendors Are Best When They’re ‘Outlaws’

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Zach Brooks, alongside an old-school vendor. Photo: Courtesy of Zach Brooks

Citing a kind of food-truck gentrification as the "catalyst" of recent police crackdowns on midtown street food carts and trucks, Midtown Lunch founder Zach Brooks argues in a New York Times op-ed today that changing zoning and/or parking laws to better suit the incredible surge of new vendors will simply kill off the better street food. He's got a point!

Many vending laws are intentionally unclear, Brooks suggests, because the government doesn't want to squelch the well-loved street vendors altogether, but rather the laws are written as such in order to keep enforcement channels open. In May, a New York State Supreme Court justice set off a new wave of crackdowns by reinforcing a rule which prevents vending from parked vehicles in metered spaces.

While some vendors flout the law, Brooks says, the best vendors have benefited from the arrangement, and whatever the solution is, it probably won't come from more court cases or crackdowns. "New York’s street food scene is unique and vibrant precisely because it exists in that legal gray area," he writes.

That could help explain why we find ourselves underwhelmed to learn that Marcus Samuelsson and Todd English will be manning a Macy's food truck in the coming weeks. There ain't nothing outlaw about that.

Outlaws Make Better Lunches [NYT]
Earlier: As Crackdowns Continue, Food Trucks Try to Cope