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The War for Fifth Avenue

Controversial cart declared illegal

The Brooklyn Paper

The gyro seller that has become the symbol of Bay Ridge’s brewing food-vendor battle is operating illegally, this paper has learned — and now brick-and-mortar businesses are demanding the controversial food cart be booted from Bay Ridge for good.

Sammy Kassen, who manages the so-named Middle Eastern Halal Cart — which was displaced in March after someone bolted two benches onto his usual spot near 86th Street under the cover of darkness — is renting both the cart and the permit from its rightful owner, an arrangement that’s forbidden under city rules.

“It’s not legal to rent a permit or to rent a cart with a permit,” a Health Department spokesperson said.

The news only outraged longtime opponents of Kassen and the Middle Eastern Halal Cart, who are now calling for immediate police action.

“They should be arrested and the cart should be taken from them,” said Tony Gentile, the owner of the Lone Star Bar and leader of Save Our Streets — an anti-food cart alliance of Bay Ridge business owners that took over Kassen’s Fifth Avenue spot for two days in April.

According to Health Department regulations, the city can seize a food cart that doesn’t have proper permits or is operating illegally.

Yet Kassen denied any wrongdoing, claiming that everything he’s doing is above board.

“This is a great business, the inspectors love us, why would we ruin it by breaking the law?” said Kassen.

Kassen admits to renting the cart — which he claims is legal, even though city officials say otherwise.

Sean Basinski, an attorney with the Street Vendor Project who has issued cease-and-desist letters against Gentile and other cart critics, said that Kassen’s apparent violation of city rules is no big deal.

“Jaywalking’s a crime, but it’s an open secret that people jaywalk, and it’s an open secret that people rent permits,” the attorney said.

Basinski estimated that 60 percent of all vendors rent the numbered stickers found slapped on the sides of food carts, and added that his organization is calling for the city to issue more vending certificates to cut down on illegal subletting.

Kassen declined to say how much he pays the cart owner, but Basinski said the going rate for the two-year permit is $15,000 — a whopping 750 percent profit for the permit holder, who pays the city just $200 for the license to grill.

“The answer to the problem of the black market is to put out more permits,” said Basinski.

The city has printed approximately 3,000 mobile food vending permits and is no longer granting new ones. More than 2,000 food vendor applicants are on a Department of Health waiting list, hoping that a current permit holder violates the law and loses his permit.

Kassen has repeatedly claimed that the owner of the cart was a man named Abu Asus, who was living in Jerusalem. But the city says that the actual permit holder is East Elmhurst resident Dimitrios Alexatos.

Alexatos declined to comment for this story. Kassen admitted that he speaks to the Queens resident frequently, but refused to say what their exact relationship is.

It’s unclear if the city will take action against Kassen, but it didn’t remove the benches that were illegally bolted onto Kassen’s favorite selling spot three months ago.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at (718) 260–4507 or e-mail him at wbredderman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/WillBredderman

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Reader Feedback

Ben from Bay Ridge says:
A person in Manhattan has over 200 permits that he rents out for a cool profit.

Others rent daily permits for 30% of gross sales.
June 13, 2012, 3:35 am
common sense from bay ridge says:
Not only is the cart unsanitary, but it's illegal also. Get this polluting, law breaking eyesore off the streets. Everybody does it is no defense for illegal behavior.
June 13, 2012, 7:20 am
Mike from Bay Ridge says:
Yeah, and every time somebody wallows out of the Lone Star drunk and makes a noisy mess on the street, or worse, the bartender and owner should be hauled into jail for failing to enforce the inebriation oversight laws. Maybe they didn't know about them...oh, that's right, everybody does it, or...or...they didn't know!
Legally if the city is allowing this to go on for a long time they are making policy that will hold up in court. Maybe it would be good to have this case happen: sounds like a lot of people would contribute money to Kassen's defense against those racist slime buckets! Get it settled, but probably not the way those bench swapping chickens expect!
June 13, 2012, 9:14 am
Hugo Furst from Bay Ridge says:
There's more than one way to skin a cat.

Maybe he can rent one of those paper signs that says "A" for sanitation.
June 13, 2012, 9:24 am
Boris from Bay Ridge says:
“The answer to the problem of the black market is to put out more permits,” said Basinski.

Er, not really. The answer to the problem of black market permits is to enforce the law. It cracks me up that Sammy and his supporters were so quick to cry "racism", when Sammy was violating the law all the time.

Get rid of that cart now.
June 13, 2012, 9:52 am
Bay Ridger from Bay Ridge says:
The Dept of Health should inspect the Lone Star Bar...
June 13, 2012, 11:21 am
adamben from bedstuy says:
Or its like renting a drivers licence, or a marriage licence it a passport or a welfare check because others do it. Lol!
June 13, 2012, 11:33 am
ty from pps says:
No -- adamben, it's like Taxi Medallions... or should be. This whole thing is absurd. There's NOTHING wrong here. Seems like Bay Ridge folks want what this cart is selling. If they don't like the "competition" -- perhaps Lone Star should sell what the cart sells. Hmm?
June 13, 2012, 4:53 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I find it an irony that those who complain about this cart violating the rules tend to ignore what some of the businesses are doing. Where is the proof that what this vendor is selling happens to be unsanitary? It's interesting how some say he violates the law when there is a bar that has been known for blasting music above the approved limit constantly. At least that vendor doesn't keep up those that want to sleep. I betcha before this was ever an issue, nobody cared where he got his permit. Just hearing some of these groups reminds me of those in the UN where authoritarian countries get to run human rights organizations and blame it only selectively on countries that they personally hate while ignoring themselves and others that they like.
June 13, 2012, 5:19 pm
Dan from Park Slope says:
Sammy the food cart is above the law.

Deal with it people.
June 13, 2012, 5:39 pm
common sense from bay ridge says:
Wow, ty and Tal agree on something. Whatever it is, it's gotta be wrong.
June 13, 2012, 6:14 pm
Boris from Bay Ridge says:
Sammy and his supporters want the law enforced, except when it applies to them. Got it? And anyone who thinks differently is a racist, Neanderthal pig, who has no right to his or her opinion.
June 13, 2012, 7:45 pm
Old time Brooklyn from Slope says:
Can the IRS or the INS inspect the bar's books as obviously all are legal and on the books - I was there at the bar two weeks ago and my 19 yo nieces was having a beer - hmm - the fat ladies lose again - will hey card EVERYONE - or just anyone swarthy without t-ts???

gentile put your books up ot shut the f-- up = typical gay ridge knuckle dragger (hey i took a leak in those imaculate cans - aka a puke - arama

Mazel tov
June 13, 2012, 11:13 pm
Anthony v from Bay Ridge says:
Its a cart that sells food. What is illegal about that? Just a bunch of ignorant people here.
June 14, 2012, 4:17 am
JBOB from Slope says:
Let the market run its course-if people are buying his food, then hes earned his spot, plain and simple.

Racism and other forms of discrimination are anti capitalist- bite me racist, commie pinko bayridge bastards!!
June 14, 2012, 7:21 am
Boris from Bay Ridge says:
Hey Old Time, you hang with your 19 year old nieces drinking beer in a bar your claim to hate? You're full of crap or psychotic.
June 14, 2012, 8:15 am
Osito from Bay Ridge says:
Can someone shut down that Lone Star bar already?

The whole Bay Ridge community know it's drug hotspot, and they're the ones leading the anti-immigrant vendor attacks.

And vendors throughout the city have the same forbidden leasing conditions described in the article. The city would have to shut down 80% of the vendors under this ridiculous rule.
June 14, 2012, 9:48 am
John from Park Slope says:
People are just making stuff up about Lonestar to avoid talking about the obvious. Sammy is operating that cart illegally. Why should he get a free pass from complying with the law?
June 14, 2012, 10:15 am
common sense from bay ridge says:
John, it's because it's racist to expect Sammy to operate his cart legally.
June 14, 2012, 10:48 am
Reader from Bayridge says:
John and common sense, did you see this site when ppl made gross "hmmm maybe" accusations about the cart and talked about [Brooklyn born] sammy's alleged foreign home country and said he might fear ending up in guantanamo?
June 14, 2012, 11:47 am
Crawford from Sunset Park says:
John, Lone Star is a drug den. This is a well-known fact. Lone Star also illegally installed street furniture.

The only reason Lone Star hasn't been shut down is because of their political connections with the local councilperson.

I assume their beef with the vendors is based on bigotry, but who knows. Maybe Lone Star's food sucks, and their customers all go to the vendors.
June 14, 2012, 12:20 pm
John from Park Slope says:
Reader, I think any "hmmm maybe" accusations are worthless and should be ignored. What should not be ignored, however, is that fact that Sammy's cart is being operated illegaly.

Crawford, if you think drugs are being dealt out of the Lonestar, call the cops. Very simple. If they take no action, call again and again. Just remember that there are criminal penalties for wilfully making a false report to the police.
June 14, 2012, 12:28 pm
al pankin from downtown says:
I wish I had 200 permits to rent out..how does the city let this happen? if the city enforced the laws on the books all this wouldn't even be a suject to print., the car wouldn't be there..the city wants to tax every businessman to death but allows all these scammers to excape with a $200 vendor license fee. then the city picks up their trash for free.
the very sidewalk that the strret vendor uses must be maintained by the property owner, if the sidewalk is in disrepair the building owner must repair it so the vendor will have a nice place to park his rented cart and escape all the costs of running a business in the city.
I'm sure Pleseantville could use a few good carts in that area.
June 14, 2012, 12:32 pm
Harry from Bay Ridge says:
To al: If the city enforced the law THIS cart might not be there but one with legal permit WOULD/COULD be and you'd still complain! NYC also owns the public sidewalks. If you have an issue with that take it up with the city or try to claim your sidewalk as a sovereign state.
June 14, 2012, 12:49 pm
alpankin from downtown says:
to harry: it's not who owns the sidewalks , it's who pays for the maintence and repairs for the sidewalk and it's not the freeloading illegal cart or the city...it's the property owner providing the maintence & upkeep & repairs up to the curb..that's the real world not fantasy island where you live.
June 14, 2012, 1:42 pm
John this is Richard from BK says:
John
Sammy is exempt from the law. He will say religious discrimination. Lone Star causes more problems than Sammy.
June 14, 2012, 2:28 pm
Harry from Bay Ridge says:
Obviously, al, we property owners should have complete control over nyc public sidewalks. Maybe we can insist that only our cousins get vendor permits or only our kids play on "our" sidewalks, right? If you guys' objection list gets any longer it will include climate change and seismic faults. LOL.
June 14, 2012, 2:28 pm
al pankin from downtown says:
harry..I don't know if you're a commerical property owner or not but you're ideas finally make some sense. whoever pays the tab should have control..it costs more than the fee for the food cart to maintain the sidewalk.. maybe we should have the "right" to rent the sidewalk out..but I have to say I wouldn't rent the space to any of my cousins, I wouldn't get paid.
June 14, 2012, 5:10 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Just hearing that the leader of Save Our Streets is the owner of Lone Star makes this group a joke. I betcha he gets away with a lot of violations in both health and noise by just giving either bribes or contributions to the right people in the council to help avoid them. It really shows that when you have friends in high places, you are always protected no matter what you do. How about opening the books on that bar owner and see what he is doing that is ilegal?
June 14, 2012, 6:01 pm
Harry from Bay Ridge says:
al, sidewalks are NOT private property. They belong to everyone, benefit property owners, provide access and throughpoints and are an amenity without which we'd all be living on Tobacco Road. If we weren't responsible for maintenance we'd still pay some usage or access fee, for obvious reasons.

By your logic we should give control of public space according to taxes paid. The superrich can claim control of public parks, playgrounds, pools, etcetera and tell the rest of us how high to jump. They could set their own special rules or personally rent it out at will. Why, maybe we can have a whole public-amenity caste system based on tax bracket!

You'd like it unless and until YOU were on the less-than end and a bigger private interest trumped yours.
June 15, 2012, 12:20 pm
SlappySlapnuts from Bay Ridge says:
Hillarious that people still defend the halal cart after the government has now ruled it illegal. I also love how they try to equate running an illegal business to jay walking, truely adorable. If we're going to make stupid comparisons, I'm going to go murder a stranger and then claim innocence because they don't prosecute jay walking strictly enough.
June 18, 2012, 6:48 pm
Lindsey from Bay Ridge says:
Basinski, the attorney used to have a cart, didn't he? He knows the law and he knows his client has broken it.
June 18, 2012, 7:08 pm
KingKong from BK says:
They'd shut down more than two thirds of all NYC vendors if they enforced this rule. It's like renting a taxi medallion, except the city deems vending licenses off limits.

All those popular food trucks, gone. You think those hipsters have their own vending license? Hell no. City stopped issuing them some time ago and yet the Food Truck craze started a couple of years ago.
June 20, 2012, 4:58 pm

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