Business is back to usual at the Roomba burrito cart on the corner of York and Elm streets. Latin music blasts out of a stereo while one of the usual workers, wearing pants decorated with chile peppers, heats tortillas. There is no sign of the cart’s petition response to a petition circulated by the Broadway Merchants’ Association, which urged the limitation of vending territories in the city. The Broadway Merchants’ Association, of which MexiCali Grille is a member, began circulating a petition at the beginning of October, and the Roomba cart’s petition followed soon after. The two sides said they are putting the issue on hold for now.
Roomba co-owner Suzette Franco-Camacho said Roomba started the petition to to give its customers a voice.
“Basically, we started the petition to make sure people had a say and had a vote, and that the people who liked the cart would be able to continue going to it,” Franco-Camacho said. “People were anxious to sign [the petition] and support it.”
Gerardo Guzman, a Roomba employee who works at the cart, said the petition received 400 signatures in the two days it was displayed.
MexiCali Grille co-owner Charlie Hague said the community’s response affected MexiCali’s decision to settle the issue.
“We got a lot of feedback that the students and the carts weren’t very happy,” Hague said. “So we just dropped it.”
Franco-Camacho said Roomba removed the petition as a courtesy at the request of MexiCali Grille. She said the two restaurants have since talked and come to an agreement.
Hague’s business partner, Than Merril ’01, said he thinks any new business will have problems and that MexiCali “just got caught up in” a Broadway Merchants’ Association issue.
“It was our names being used when it was an Association thing,” Merril said. “To single us out is not accurate. It’s been an ongoing issue for a while; we just got in the middle of things.”
Broadway merchants initiated a petition in June 2001 urging reconciliation with the vendors. MexiCali Grille opened in February of this year.
John Lynch, who has run the flower stand on the opposite corner from the Roomba cart for the past nine years, said he saw the petition as a public relations blunder on the part of MexiCali and the Association.
“It was a publicity stumble on the part of the people who started the campaign against the vendors,” Lynch said.
Merrill said MexiCali is now going to focus on its own affairs, including expanding to delivery service.
“We’re concentrating on our business, and [Roomba] can concentrate on its business,” Merrill said. “It’s not worth two restaurants fighting over.”
Both Hague and Franco-Camacho said business has been good and has not shown any impact from either petition.
Fans of the burrito cart expressed relief that the cart was not going to disappear. Adam Sofen LAW ’05 said he was excited when MexiCali Grille opened because he missed the Mexican food he was used to after growing up in Southern California. He said after discovering the burrito cart, he no longer eats at MexiCali, and is happy the Roomba petition was successful and the cart will remain.
“I feel like it’s a great victory,” Sofen said.
George Koutroumanis, a partner and manager of Yorkside Pizza and Restaurant — which belongs to the Broadway Merchants’ Association — said the group is still pursuing limiting the vendors’ territory. He said he thought it was “unneighborly” for local restaurants to expand their business to the Broadway area via carts, potentially taking customers away from the Broadway merchants.
“We’re just trying to — make it a little more fair for the restauranteurs who are here throughout the years,” Koutroumanis said. “It would be like me going in front of my neighbor’s store.”
Franco-Camacho said Roomba is prepared in case the problem returns, but hopes things will remain peaceful.
“Certainly if something gets started again, we will fight for the rights of the vendors,” Franco-Camacho said. “But I hope it doesn’t — my general feeling is, there’s room for everybody.”
Koutroumanis said he thinks the conflict can be resolved.
“Hopefully, we can come to terms where everyone is benefited,” Koutroumanis said.