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Mr. Mousa, however, was fixated on just one number: 3.892. This was his position on the New York City waiting list for food vendors.
Like thousands of the city’s mobile food vendors, Mr. Mousa Can’t get a permit to use his cartThe Halal Plates. The number of permits was previously limited to 5,100. A law passed in 2021 increased the number to 445 permits per year for 10 years. The city has issued 71 permits so far.
Almost 9,500 people were on waiting lists in January, according to the city’s health department. A spokesman said it had released 1,074 applications — a permit prerequisite — since the law was enacted, but most applicants had yet to complete the process.
Mr. Mousa says that while he waits he and his partner pay $18,000 cash every two-years to rent their permit. He said the Bronx cabdriver obtained it years ago for just a few hundred bucks. Mr. Mousa claimed that such arrangements were the only way for many vendors to avoid fines or confiscation of carts, even if they follow all regulations.
Mr. Mousa anticipates that the permit holder may try to raise the price.
“What can I do?” Mr. Mousa said, adding, “He has the thing I need.”
Such is the math of chicken and rice — a heavily spiced mound of boneless chicken with yellow rice and a side salad — which swept the city in the 1980s, after a wave of Egyptian immigrants arrived.
Mr. Mousa, 30 and also from Egypt, raised the dish’s price by 67 percent since 2020. He said that he had closed the business and worked as a delivery driver for more than a year.
The cart requires a lot of tracking, beginning with the $750 per month that you save for the permit. The business, which is dependent on students, office and construction workers and other workers, operates two 10-hour shifts from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 a.m. In winter, Mr. Mousa, two cooks, and a secretary (paid $150 per day) work from Wednesday to Sunday. After Easter, they are on duty every day.
Mr. Mousa pays $450 per month for a space in a Brooklyn garage and commissary to store his cart and ingredients. He pays $30 a day to have the cart cleaned by a worker, and $65 a month to have it transported to and from Lower Manhattan by a driver.
The majority of cooking takes place in the 5-by-10 foot metal cart. A $2,000 generator powers an electric refrigerator. The flattop grill, fryer and flattop grill use a $25 propane tank every day. Commissary workers cook a $18 bag of Basmati rice.
In the colder months, the business might make $500 daily, Mr. Mousa said — a net loss, but enough to survive until the summer, when sales range from $700 to $1,400 a day. The most popular dish is chicken over rice, which accounts for two-thirds the revenue.
John Rennie Short is a professor emeritus from the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. He said that New York was the only major American city to enforce a limit on food vendor permits. But that could all change.
City Council members will be meeting in December. Introduced a Bill to increase the number of new permits issued annually — to 1,500 from 445 — and remove the cap after five years.
Mohamed Attia said that the changes would be transformational.
Opponents claim that removing the cap could lead to overcrowding, safety issues and other problems.
A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said the city was reviewing the legislation.
Mr. Mousa lives in Jersey City with his wife and infant son. A valid permit could save him a lot of money. He also owns two carts in the area that use borrowed permits.
Perhaps enough savings to kick-start retirement. “In my 50s,” he said, “I’ll be fishing on a lake.”
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