Food, Stories, and the People of New York City

By Andrew R. Calderon & Lindsay Cayne

Server at Duane Park Pastisserie takes order. Photo by Lindsay Cayne

NEW YORK CITY — In a city of insatiable appetites, a food garage, a frugal baker, and a bedazzled pantry volunteer find motivation in unexpected places.

Where Food Carts Go at Night

Halal Cart on Broadway and 111th in New York City. Photo by Lindsay Cayne

Food carts are a fixture of New York City streets, common to every borough and a staple of New Yorkers’s diets. Little known is the micro economy of garage owners, workers, and commissaries who work late hours to keep the food carts operational.

The so-called “halal garages” provide a range of vital services, like storage, washing and cleaning, restocking, cart maintenance, rice making, and supply procurement.

AK Foods is one such garage in Long Island City, New York, where the workday starts at 8:00 p.m. and ends around 6:00 a.m.

Heiman Tarek, a summer employee, took us on a tour.

Last October, the New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito proposed the Street Vendor Modernization Act in response to a burgeoning black market for carts and licenses. Black market licenses go for as much as $25,000 dollars, compared to $200 dollars through legal channels.

When the law comes into effect on March 1, 2018, the number of food vendors in New York City is expected to go from 4,000 to 8,000 by 2023, according to Eater. The demand for garage storage and maintenance is expected to increase as well.

From Excess Cake to Food Fantasy

Strawberry shortcake Ring Ding Bars and Ding Dots. Photo by Lindsay Cayne

Madeline Lanciani hates to waste. The owner of Duane Park Patisserie, a bakery located on Duane Street in TriBeCa, she realized how much cake was lost while making her famous Ring Ding Bar.

Madeline Lanciani, proprietor and chef at Duane Park Pastisserie, eating a ding dot. Photo by Lindsay Cayne

Lanciani thought back to her mother’s kitchen and decided to repurpose the leftovers. She took the icing-filled bits and pieces, rolled them in sprinkles, and sold them as a new dessert: the Ding Dot.

Lanciani launched the Ding Dots earlier this month at Duane Park to a crowd of food bloggers who had positive reviews. She believes that the secret ingredient to a winning dessert is to make it “taste as good as it looks.”

Ring Ding Bars (left) and Ding Dots on top of Ring Ding Bars (right). Photos by Lindsay Cayne

Pantry Drag Queen, Ruby Rims

Ms. Ruby Rims at the Gay Pride Festival in 1984 (Courtesy of Ruby Rims https://www.facebook.com/ruby.rims)

Ruby Rims is lead volunteer at the Metro Baptist Church’s food pantry in Hell’s Kitchen, across the street from Port Authority, where he turned for assistance after being diagnosed with AIDS nearly 25 years ago.

Metro Baptist serves the city’s 8th most food insecure districts in the borough. The pantry sources its food from associated non-profits, through donations, and — as of seven years ago — its on-site rooftop garden.

Moving forward, Metro Baptist plans to expand its community services to address the city’s pressing social needs and will come to depend even more on volunteers like Ruby Rims.