Ernesto Garcia, the owner of the Ay! Arepa food truck, stood with members of the Yale community to protest city orders to vacate the truck’s four-year location on York Street Tuesday afternoon.
The demonstrators stood on the corner of York and Elm Street soliciting signatures for a petition in support of the allowing the food cart to remain on York Street. The group doubled the number of signatures on the petition, which was first written last Thursday. After Tuesday’s protest, the petition has a total of 400 signatures from students and city residents alike.
According to Garcia — who met with James Turcio, the city building code enforcer, yesterday — the city will allow the truck to move to another location. However, Garcia said, a move would disturb the customer base that he has built on York Street.
“I prefer to stay here because most of our customers know that we are here,” Garcia said. “I would lose a lot of customers [by moving locations].”
Last Wednesday, representatives from the New Haven Building Department notified workers at Ay! Arepa and several other food trucks, including Caseus and Portobello, that they could no longer operate on certain parts of College, York and Broadway because those blocks were deemed residential areas.
On Thursday morning, Garcia said, an official from the building department gave him one hour to vacate his York Street location. He added that the building department representative brought along a police officer, who stood across the street. The building official, Garcia said, did not provide any official paperwork during the Thursday exchange.
The city released a statement Friday afternoon detailing a decided increase in the regulation of food trucks following complaints from businesses, landlords and the public. City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer said the city received repeated reports that food trucks dumped excess cooking oil into the city drainage system. The Friday press release added city officials did not give food truck owners one-hour deadlines or seek police assistance to shut down operations.
Protesters supporting Ay! Arepa Tuesday afternoon said the cart’s location should not be considered a residential area due to its proximity to the Broadway shopping district. The Ay! Arepa is usually stationed outside Trumbull College across the street from Blue State, Yorkside and DNA Emporium.
Leanne Motylenski ’16, who stood to collect signatures Tuesday afternoon, said Ay! Arepa should be allowed to maintain its location in order to serve the high volume students and visitors who walk through the Broadway shopping district.
“People deserve access to profitable businesses spaces,” Motylenski said.
The city’s orders have spurred financial concerns among employees working for the evicted food cart. Victor Lopez, who works at Ay! Arepa, said managing the truck has been his primary source of income for the last year and a half.
“This is how I pay my bills now.” Lopez said. “This is my job and I want to keep it.”
But, Garcia said, his employees would likely have to take a pay cut because the food cart has not be operational for the past few days.
Tom Sobocinski, co-owner of Caseus — which received the same city order to vacate its usual location — said that because his restaurant is a brick-and-mortar business, those employed by the food truck have been able to make up hours that they have missed since the food cart was shut down. Caseus employs two workers to manage its food cart full-time. Ay! Arepa also has a permanent location in the form of Rubamba restaurant on High Street. Other carts, such as The Meat Truck, are not associated with restaurants.
Sobocinski said that businesses that operate solely via trucks may have a tougher time compensating their workers in light of the city’s orders.
Caseus’s cart — The Cheese Truck — regularly operates on College Street. The truck has not been there since Wednesday afternoon.