Mexicali challenges cart vendors

Although each side is armed with nothing more than food and petitions, the street cart vendors and local New Haven restaurants are waging a battle for business on Broadway.

The current clash is the result of ongoing differences between the two groups, as the food vendors have posed an increasingly large challenge to business for brick-and-mortar Broadway establishments. The food cart owners say they are not breaking any laws and are entitled the right to set up shop, while Broadway merchants like Mexicali Grille claim the carts are unfairly cutting into their market share.

“We pay tens of thousands of dollars a year as merchants to make Broadway Street a nice place to shop,” said Peter Mazza ’01, the owner of Mexicali Grille. “Vendors essentially leech off of this. Nor do they pay any taxes.”

Mexicali Grille has become a primary target of the vendors’ complaints, as the Burrito Du Jour cart — located on the corner of York and Broadway — is running a sign claiming they are being forced out of business by large corporations. Mexicali Grille is the only “large corporation” specifically named.

“We have the freedom to do this. We’re not breaking any law. They want us to leave and that’s just not right,” said Gerardo Guzman, part owner of the Burrito Du Jour cart.

Mazza, however, claims that the carts are not just ordinary street vendors, but are run by some of the largest restaurants in New Haven. He added that the idea of Mexicali Grille being a large corporation is “laughable.”

“These cart owners are not the small restaurant owners of the American dream as they are portraying themselves to be,” said Mazza. “They are part of large restaurants trying to diversify their business portfolios.”

The Burrito Du Jour cart is owned and operated by Roomba restaurant, while the other carts situated on the corner of York and Broadway — the center of the controversy — are run by Thai Taste and Indochine Pavilion.

Roomba’s cart is the only one that does not present itself as being affiliated with a restaurant. Next to the cart is a placard advertising the petition Broadway merchants signed, and a new petition started by Burrito Du Jour that asks students and local residents to support the right of the carts to stay on Broadway.

“The petition is just in case anything happens,” Guzman said. “But I don’t think the city can allow them [the Broadway merchants] to push all the vendors out. If they do it here, they will have to do it everywhere.” As of Wednesday evening, the Burrito Du Jour petition had already collected over 15 pages of signatures.

“I have my own customers, [and] they have their own. A lot of people like this product; they have tried both but they like ours better,” said Guzman, adding that his cart has been in business longer than Mexicali Grille. “I don’t even see how we could be competition; all we have is burritos, [while] they have a lot more.”

Seth Nadler ’05 said he buys burritos from Burrito Du Jour fairly often and appreciates its central location.

“From my experience, they put out a very good product, and it’s very convenient so I think that it allows students to get a quick bite in between classes.”

Mexicali Grille and other Broadway merchants complain that the laws governing street carts in New Haven are archaic and that the carts receive the benefits of Broadway merchants for a nominal fee.

The discord between merchants and vendors is not new to Broadway. In June 2001, a petition was initiated by the merchants urging reconciliation with the street vendors. The petition was ignored by the food cart vendors, Mazza said.

“We think an alternative situation could be reached. If the Broadway merchants could sit down with the street vendors I am sure that we could devise a peaceable situation that would work for everyone,” Mazza said.

Gerardo Guzman and Ernesto Garcia Hernandez man the York Street burrito cart, protested by some Broadway vendors.
Zoe Pershing-Foley
Gerardo Guzman and Ernesto Garcia Hernandez man the York Street burrito cart, protested by some Broadway vendors.

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