Final Vendy Awards brings back winners, finalists for street food showdown

Royal Grill Halal Food, whose Indian food cart is located on 44th Street and 6th Avenue, won the annual Vendy Cup in 2018. Photo Credit: Clay Williams

The Street Vendor Project competition has helped raise awareness of food vendors on city streets.

Royal Grill Halal Food, whose Indian food cart is located on 44th Street and 6th Avenue, won the annual Vendy Cup in 2018.
Royal Grill Halal Food, whose Indian food cart is located on 44th Street and 6th Avenue, won the annual Vendy Cup in 2018. Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

A “street food showdown” that has taken place each year for more than a decade will celebrate the city’s food vendors one last time this weekend.

The 15th and final Vendy Awards kick off on Governors Island this Saturday, Sept. 21, the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center said in a release.

The nonprofit, which advocates for New York City street vendors’ legal rights, started the friendly food competition in 2005 as a way to highlight vendors’ contributions to the city, Vendy Awards managing director Tatiana Orlov told amNewYork.

This year will be the event’s last given how much the street food scene has changed over the years, Orlov said.

“In 2005, the landscape of street food was really different in New York City — you didn’t have Smorgasburg, [or] the weekly markets that are everywhere,” she said. ”In a way, Street Vendor Project has really accomplished what they set out to do with the Vendy Awards, which was to raise the profile of street food in New York.”

The very first Vendy Awards were held in a food truck garage in downtown Manhattan, with four vendors participating. The event’s popularity has soared since then; last year, more than 2,000 people attended, Orlov said.

This year’s Vendys will bring back finalists and winners from past competitions for an “All-Star Vendy Cup.” Attendees can expect to see NY Dosa, King of Falafel and Shawarma, Tony’s Dragon Grill, Patacon Pisao, The Cinnamon Snail, King Souvlaki, Harlem Seafood Soul, Anton’s Dumplings, Nansense, Mysttik Masaala, Lechonera La Piraña, Guandong Cheong Fun, Nuchas, The Arepa Lady and Chef Samir Truck at the event, according to a release.

A four-time winner at the Vendys, vegan food truck Cinnamon Snail returns to battle as an All-Star.
A four-time winner at the Vendys, vegan food truck Cinnamon Snail returns to battle as an All-Star. Photo Credit: Cinnamon Snail

“This year, because our Vendy Cup category is 15 vendors, we decided to make it democratic and have the people decide who the best of the past is,” Orlov said.

A “Best Freshman” category will feature finalists Antojitos Doña Fela, Kingston Food Truck, Tong, Terry and Yaki, Mom’s Momo, Mak’s Malaysian Food and Birria-Landia.

There will also be a “Best Dessert” competition in which finalists Wafels & Dinges and Dulcinea face off.

Attendees will have access to unlimited samples of food from two dozen vendors, as well as unlimited beer and wine, a release notes.

Though the Vendy Awards themselves are coming to an end, the Street Vendor Project’s advocacy work will continue, Orlov noted.

Street vendors still deal with problems like harassment and permitting issues, she explained.

“A lot of times vendors are maybe people who aren’t easily noticed, and they’re just part of your city, but many are new immigrants, many are really forging a new life through vending on the streets,” she said. “And it’s really important to highlight how hard they work and advocate for them at every level.”

“There’s a lot of talk about supporting small businesses, but we always forget that street vendors are the [smallest] kind of business you can get,” she added. “And we can’t have conversations about small businesses without talking about and including street vendors in that conversation.”

Tickets cost $100 for general admission and $170 for VIP and are available online. All of the money raised goes toward the Street Vendor Project, Orlov noted.

Vendy Awards

When: 12:30-5 p.m. Sept. 21

Where: Governors Island

Tickets: from $60; purchase here

Maya Rajamani