But Mr. Mousa focused on one number: 3,892. It was his position on a New York City food vendor’s waiting list.
Like thousands of street food vendors in the city, Mr. Mousa cannot obtain a permit for his cart, Halal Plates. A long-standing cap limited the number of permits to 5,100, before a 2021 law began allowing 445 new permits per year for a decade. So far, the city has issued 71 new permits.
Nearly 9,500 people were on the waiting list in January, according to the city health department. A spokesperson said the company has posted 1,074 applications — a prerequisite for obtaining a permit — since the law was enacted, but that most applicants have not yet completed the process.
While he waits, Mr. Mousa said he and his business partner pay $18,000 in cash every two years to lease their license from a Bronx taxi driver who Mr. Mousa said got it he decades ago for a few hundred dollars. Mr Mousa said such arrangements were the only way many vendors, who otherwise comply with regulations, can avoid fines and confiscation of their carts.
Mr. Mousa hopes to negotiate the same price this summer, but anticipates that the permit holder will try to increase it.
“What can I do?” ” Mr. Mousa said, adding: “He has what I need. »
Such is the calculus of chicken and rice – a mound of very spicy boneless chicken with yellow rice and a side salad – which swept the city in the 1980s, after the arrival of a wave of Egyptian immigrants.
Mr. Mousa, 30 and also from Egypt, has increased the price of the dish by 67 percent since 2020. He said he closed the business for more than a year, working as a food delivery driver.
Running the cart includes tracking dozens of expenses, starting with saving $750 a month for the permit. The business, which relies on students and office and construction workers, operates two 10-hour shifts, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. In winter, Mr. Mousa and two cooks (paid $150 a day ) work Wednesday for Sunday; after Easter, they work every day.
Mr. Mousa also pays $450 a month for space in a garage and commissary kitchen in Red Hook, Brooklyn, to store the cart and ingredients. He spends $30 a day for a worker to clean the cart and $65 for a driver to transport it to and from Lower Manhattan.
Most of the cooking takes place in the 5-by-10-foot metal cart. A $2,000 generator powers a small refrigerator; flat top grill and fryer burn daily in $25 propane tank. An $18 bag of basmati rice is usually prepared by commissary employees.
During the coldest months, the business can make $500 a day, Mr. Mousa said — a net loss, but enough to survive until summer, when sales range from $700 to $1,400 a day. . Chicken over rice is the most popular dish, accounting for two-thirds of revenue.
New York is the only major U.S. city to impose a cap on food sales permits, said John Rennie Short, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. But that could change.
In December, members of the municipal council presented a bill increase the number of new permits issued each year – from 445 to 1,500 – and remove the cap after five years.
Mohamed Attia, chief executive of the Street Vendor Project, an advocacy group, said the changes would be transformative.
Opponents say removing the cap could create overcrowding and safety concerns.
A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said the city was reviewing the legislation.
For Mr. Mousa, who lives with his wife and baby in Jersey City, New Jersey, a legitimate license could save him significant amounts of money. He said he also has a stake in two nearby carts that also use borrowed permits.
Enough savings, perhaps, to start your retirement. “In my fifties,” he said, “I’ll be fishing on a lake. »
Produced by Eden Weingart, Andrew Hinderaker and Dagny Salas. Development by Gabriel Gianordoli And Aliza Aufrichtig.