Just over two months ago, Adam Sobel of The Cinnamon Snail – one of New York City’s most popular food trucks and the reigning Vendy Cup champion – made the shocking announcement that they would be calling it quits from the streets of New York. Cinnamon Snail had won four Vendy Awards for their big, bold, vegan flavors, garnering long lines at lunch time no matter what neighborhood in the city they parked.
So why did they pull the plug on this hugely popular food truck? Adam discussed the decision with Grub Street, and recently he appeared on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show alongside Street Vendor Project director Sean Basinski. In short, Adam expressed his frustration with the current permit system for mobile food vendors in New York City.
“It’s so shady,” Sobel told WNYC. “It’s almost like buying drugs on the street.”
The problem is lack of permits, and the difficulty of obtaining one legally. There are only 5,100 mobile food vending permits available, and only 2,800 of those are city-wide, year-round permits (the rest are seasonal, borough-specific, for veterans, or for the Green Cart program) – a number that has remained unchanged since 1981, despite growth in both the city’s population and in the popularity of street vending. If you can get one of these permits through the city Department of Health, it costs only $200 every two years, and you can renew it indefinitely, even pass it down in your family. As a result, permits rarely become available. Many current permits holders have left the street food business, but, not wanting to give up a valuable asset, they instead “rent” their permits to new business owners shut out of the legal permit system, often for exorbitant amounts.
“They go for roughly 100 times or more than what it actually costs to renew the permit through the city,” Sobel told WNYC. Though the city has tried to crack down on renting permits, forcing the official permit holders to renew in person, that often justs put a greater burden on the renters. Sobel once found that the holder of his permit had moved to Pakistan, meaning Cinnamon Snail had to pay to fly him back to New York to renew the permit.
Now that Adam has left the day-to-day street vending industry in New York to focus on private events, cakes, and catering (and another project that he has yet to announce), he feels freer to speak about his concerns with the current permitting situation.
To try to alleviate this situation and reform the murky, semi-legal, onerous permit system, the Street Vendor Project has launched the Lift the Caps campaign, which aims not only to remove the cap on the number of vending permits, but also to clarify many of the confusing vending rules that don’t protect public health and safety, but provide plenty of pretext to shower vendors with expensive fines.
You can support this campaign by signing their petition, volunteering with SVP, or joining one of our Food Cart Tours in the Financial District or Midtown; 5% of all ticket sales goes to support the work of SVP.
Adam shares some of these vending hardships, along with many of his recipes, in a brand new cookbook titled Street Vegan: Recipes and Dispatches from The Cinnamon Snail Food Truck. The book hits shelves today, May 5, and there will be a debut event at Dumbo’s PowerHouse Arena bookshop, where Adam will be signing copies, talking about the street food industry, and serving food from his truck, back on the streets for one night only! (RSVP appreciated for the event).
This is a rare chance to try those amazing vegan doughnuts once again. The truck will be outside PowerHouse from 6pm to 9pm, and the talk and signing will begin at 7pm inside the store, located at 37 Main Street, Brooklyn.
In addition to sharing his mind-blowingly delicious vegan food with the world, we also hope his new book will help educate people about the hardships and triumphs that are part of everyday life of street vendors in the city. And with SVP’s efforts, we hope reform is imminent.