The Inner Workings of Halal Food Trucks

by Cecilia Butini and Steph Beckett

Mohamed Shaheedulhuq, a halal food vendor, gets his food truck ready for the day at a depot in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Photo via Cecilia Butini.

Brooklyn is in no shortage of food trucks, just like everywhere in New York City. They’re on almost every corner, alternating with family-owned delis and nation-wide fast food chains.

In a city where there are so many options, how do food truck vendors manage to compete? Exploring the inner workings of a food truck garage, two vendors shed light on different aspects of the same job .

Mohamed Shaheedulhuq prepares his food truck for a day of sales after walking it from the garage (Left.) He prepares chicken, sausage, hot dogs and vegetables once he gets to his spot (Right.) Photos via Steph Beckett.

Mohamed Osman

At 291 Butler street, in Gowanus, an unassuming gate squeezed between a quiet hotel and an unused door on the facade of a brick building opens up to a big garage. Roughly twenty food carts are stored here.

Every morning around 9:00 a.m., 43-year-old Mohamed Osman drives to the facility from his Brooklyn home. His halal food truck is waiting for him and is being set up by his employee, Tialk Sadaf. By 9:30 a.m., Osman attaches the food truck to his car and drives to his spot in Park Slope, at the corner of 7th Avenue and 6th Street, where he leaves Sadaf to sell gyros, falafel, and chicken on rice.

Osman grew up in Egypt and studied law. He moved to New York 24 years ago at age 19. He turned to the food business, working in delis and at Dunkin’ Donuts. By age 28, he wanted to strike out on his own and bought a food truck.

“Here you’re gonna be your own boss […], and yes, it’s more money.”

There are 98 food truck garages in New York City — or, as the city names them, “licensed commissaries and depots for mobile food vending storage.” They serve both as storing and as cooking facilities for the basics, like rice.

In the Gowanus depot, the kitchen is a small room with half a dozen rice cookers and pots. The depot, which is managed by Belgo Waffle Inc. hires workers from different countries, mostly from the Middle East and South America.

Osman said his entrepreneurial spirit allowed him to make enough profit to provide for his own salary and his worker’s.

The reality is different for many other vendors, however.

Mohamed Shaheedulhuq

Mohamed Shaheedulhuq also parks his truck, “N.S. Halal Foods,” at Gowanus garage, and his life looks quite different than Osman’s.

Shaheedulhuq prepares his vegetables in the garage where he stores his food truck overnight. This way, he doesn’t have to spend much time getting ready on the go. Photos via Steph Beckett.

He arrives at the garage early each morning after a commute from Queens. He prepares all perishables himself.

Shaheedulhuq then walks almost twenty blocks from Gowanus to his spot at Fulton Mall, pulling his motored cart with a chord.

Shaheedulhuq has lived in America for 20 years, and moved here from Bangladesh. He has a family, including a wife, children and grandchildren — and they all still live there.

“I am a U.S. Citizen; I can bring them here,” he said. “But the problem is, I cannot afford them here.”

Shaheedulhuq makes roughly $21,000 a year. His expenses include a $200 monthly rent for the depot. Short of a legal vending permit due to long waiting lists at the Health Department, he — like many other vendors — pays $20,000 every two years to use somebody else’s permit. He is not left with much to live on.

“I’m now 61 years old, so I have no time to go to university, to college, so I have to do whatever I can… What am I gonna do? I have to manage it.”