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Arrested Development: Parable of Street Vending

Arrested Development is back. We’ve waited for this day for seven years, and as we look back on the show’s three incredible seasons in anticipation of the fourth, I’ve come to one conclusion: at its heart, this is a show about street vending. As the show follows the long, meandering downfall of the Bluth family, I would argue that their bad behavior as street vendors was their true tragic flaw.

It ain’t easy being a street vendor, but had the Bluths just followed a few simple rules of vending (which they could have picked up on our Food Cart Tours), they could have avoided their fate – but then, of course, we would have been deprived of 68 miraculous episodes of television.

Still from Arrested Development, Michael, GOB, and Steve Holt flighting in front of the banana stand.

Don’t vend next to someone selling the same thing.

It is an unwritten but widely accepted rule that street vendors should respect the businesses around them, whether they be other mobile food vendors or brick-and-mortar storefronts. It is considered bad form to park your ice cream truck in front of an ice cream parlor, or to start slinging chicken over rice next to another halal cart with an established spot. Failure to follow this rule often leads to conflicts, it gives the whole industry a bad name, and reprisals are sometimes visited upon the offenders. Cooperating and setting up near other carts and trucks with complementary, rather than competing items can attract more customers and build a healthy ecosystem of street vending. It can also help avoid damaging price wars and disgusting or dangerous publicity stunts.

Still from Arrested Development, the banana stand being lifted by a crane.

Never leave your stand unattended.

This can be a challenge when you are working your spot alone all day, as you will inevitably have to step away to use the bathroom. Having good relationships with your fellow vendors and nearby stores is absolutely critical, as you can rely on them to watch your cart and give you a place to relieve yourself. Just leaving a note will undoubtedly attract the ire of your boss (but the approval of your grandfather), and if you’re not careful, you could find your business thrown into the ocean by some rowdy spring breakers.

Still from Arrested Development, the cartoon of Mr. Bananagrabber riding a Segway.

Build a brand, and never give up animation rights.

Many of the most popular and successful mobile food businesses today have invested in professional branding to distinguish themselves in the marketplace and build customer loyalty. If you see a big, yellow street vendor in New York City, it’s probably not a banana stand, but one of the fleet of food carts and trucks of Wafels & Dinges. And should the day come when owner Thomas DeGeest wants to push beyond street vending and restaurants and into the children’s animation sector, he’ll be glad he held onto the rights to (hypothetical) Mr. Wafflegrabber.

Still from Arrested Development, George Michael and Maeby working the banana stand at the cash register.

Keep track of your cash

Street vending is a cash businesses, so it is important to keep good records and to hire people who are trustworthy and experienced. Children, especially ones who are bad at math, do not make good employees. Nor do convicted arsonists. And your mobile food business is never a good place to store huge quantities of cash.

Still from Arrested Development, George Bluth with gian scissors cutting a red ribbon on a Bluth's Original Frozen Banana stand.

Don’t steal other people’s ideas.

The source of the Bluth family’s tremendous wealth, and the ultimate cause of their downfall, was stealing the idea for the “Bluth original” frozen banana from a Korean immigrant in 1953, who had a small stand on the boardwalk in Newport Beach. The last time we saw the Bluths, it was Helu “Annyong” Bluth, their adopted son and, unbeknownst them, the grandson of that wronged frozen banana vendor, who betrayed them in the final act. Street food vending is about hard work, salesmanship, and creativity – ripping off someone else’s concept displays none of these qualities, and it makes the whole street food scene stale and boring, driving away customers. Ultimately, it will come back to bite you, as it did the Bluths.

We hope you will keep these life lessons in mind as you follow the Bluths on their next journey. And what better snack to bring along for the ride than a homemade frozen banana, with a recipe courtesy of our friend Alex Penfold! While you’re gorging yourself on an unconscionable quantity of television and frozen desserts this weekend, take a moment to nominate your favorite vendors for a Vendy – and get your early bird tickets for the NYC Vendy Awards, coming to Brooklyn September 7!

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