You see their carts. You might eat from their carts. But who are the people behind the carts? Sometimes their faces are obscured, but let’s face it: no one was (likely) born behind a food-filled cart. So how did they get there? Let’s take a look at a few of these folks who feed people on the go.
Name: Ali Aziz
Place of employment: L.A. Café, at Lafayette and Astor Pl
Time working at the cart: 2 months
Cart connection: The cart’s owner is Ali’s cousin’s husband
At L.A. Café, regulars feast on egg sandwiches and XL Ice Coffees in the early morning and throughout the day. But back in Afghanistan, Ali Aziz, who serves food from the cart, sees nothing of this sort for breakfast. Afghanis are more likely to feast on some form of bread and cheese for their morning fulfillment, Ali said. The beverage of choice is usually a plain tea, green tea or milk.
Five days a week, Ali wakes up around 2:30 a.m. and travels with his boss from New Jersey to the garage where the cart and supplies are stored. By 5 a.m., the cart is up and running.
During the afternoon, Ali’s boss usually joins him, which makes the downtime go faster, he said.
Ali came to New York in February, and his wife has been here for eight
or nine years, he said. Since New York’s splash of culture can shock
visitors from another state or town, it presents a “whole new
experience” for him — especially when it comes to clothing, or lack
thereof. “People in my country are so modest,” he said. “Here, they’re all sexy.” As far as sexy food goes, Ali likes the gyro from a nearby cart more than anything else he’s tried in the city. “The first day my cousin took me out for a gyro,” Ali said. “I said ‘What’s a gyro?’”
But a touch of his home country isn’t too far away – Ali is friends
with another cart vendor across the street, who also hails from
Afghanistan. In addition, some customers talk to him in Pakistani, he
said.“I miss home; I miss my mom,” Ali said. “I call every weekend.”
Place of employment: Nuts 4 Nuts, corner of Prince and Broadway
Time working at the cart: 2-3 years
Cart connection: His friend works in another nut cart
Claudio is nutty about New York City. “It’s a nice city; it’s exciting,” he said. A few years ago, his dream came true when he moved here and started working at Nuts 4 Nuts, a cart that serves up sweet roasted nuts.
Claudio said he sees some of the same customers up to twice a week. He’s even served nuts to Steven Spielberg – though his friend was the one who recognized him. His biggest clientele is adult women.
Claudio boils the nuts in water and sugar. It’s a delicacy that can be hard to resist, even though his nose adjusts to the sweet smell after hours of working. “I don’t wanna start eating it because I can’t stop,” he said. “I never get tired of it.” Claudio’s own diet consists of mostly grilled chicken, salad and fruit, he said.
Home: New York
Place of employment: Dino’s Lite Bites, in front of 568 Broadway near Prince and Broadway
Time working at the cart: 17 years
Cart connection: His dad started the cart 40 years ago
Dino spends his days in front of sizzling souvlaki and shish tawook (chicken kabobs) – and for him, it’s a familiar place to be. Open seven days a week, the business has become something of a staple on the busy Broadway block. “I recognize a lot of people, and they recognize me,” Dino said. “I love food, I love cooking; I love the whole idea of it. I love being outside and meeting people.” About 90% of customers are regulars, he said, and the cart has served the same menu since it began.
Dino promises customers “fast, fresh, and friendly service.” “People are gonna be picky, but I’m passive,” he said. “I’m very for the customer. That’s the way we work.”
Place of employment: Hot dog/pretzel/soda cart, Prince Street near Broadway
Time working at the cart: 3 years
Cart connection: A friend landed him the job
The fast-paced atmosphere of New York restaurant life is suitable for some. But for Taieb, the pressure was just too much. Taieb, who moved to New York five years ago, worked in a pizzeria for about two years, where he answered to managers and supervisors. But at the cart, Taieb runs his own show. “It’s always just me,” Taieb said. “I do what I want.”
Since he ate a lot of pizza while working in the restaurant, Taieb no longer chooses a tasty New York slice for lunch or dinner. He really likes to fry fish at home and said New York’s selection is just as good as Morocco’s. “I have all the ingredients I need,” he said.
Though people have been very nice here, it’s difficult to interact when you don’t speak English well, Taieb said. “I would like to study English, but I don’t have time,” he said.
Photo courtesy of www.newyorklogue.com
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