‘Mission accomplished’: The Vendy Awards prepare for one last party

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: Getty Images/Composite image

Food vendors are a staple of New York City, but after 15 years, the annual event that celebrates their significance is coming to an end.

The Vendy Awards — a street food competition on Governors Island every year — will have its last hurrah on Sept. 21, with dozens of vendors providing food samples and competing for the Vendy Cup.

“The mission of the event was to raise the profile of street vendors across New York City — to highlight their contributions, to highlight their experiences, their richness,” said Tatiana Orlov, managing director of the Vendy Awards. “It’s sort of mission accomplished.”

The event highlights the city’s top 25 street vendors, who are nominated by the public. Attendees will have unlimited access to dozens of free food samples from the competitors.

Orlov explained that there has been a burst in the food appreciation movement since the event started in 2005. Now, she said, there are food markets every week in every borough and New York City is in a “new landscape” that is more inclusive of street vendors.

“We want to end on a high note and say we came and did our thing for 15 years. Not many people can say that about an event,” she said. “We really put street food on the map in New York City.”

Every year, the event raises money for the Street Vendor Project, a membership-based group that is currently working to increase the number of permits, licenses and space available to vendors. They have also established the Pushcart Fund to provide loans of no more than $2,000 to vendors who are otherwise unable to borrow funds.

“We’re proud to say that the Vendy’s have become as iconic as New York street food itself,” said Sean Basinski, co-director of the Street Vendor Project, in a press statement. “They have paved the way for a whole new food landscape in New York City, in which vendors are now an integral part of every community and every borough.”

Theo Friedman of Bonsai Kakigōri, a Japanese shaved ice dessert vendor, said that being a finalist in the Best Dessert category in 2018 was a huge honor and that the business was grateful for the experience. 

"[Vendor food] is a class of food that can often get overlooked," he said. "I think sometimes it can be downgraded to street food, which sometimes has a negative connotation, but can be just as delicious and creative as any other food."

The Vendy Award team is still working out the details of the last event, and award nominees will be announced in the coming weeks. Organizers also are looking into ways to continue to help the Street Vendor Project, which will lose funding from the event.

Orlov hopes people will continue to learn about and advocate for the roughly 20,000 street vendors throughout the city.

“Street food is the most democratic form of food. It’s food for the people,” she said. “The vendors represent every corner of our world. They represent all the incredible immigrant cultures of our city that make it what it is.”

Tickets are on sale for $100. VIP tickets are $170 and include an additional hour of eating and VIP bar and tent access. To nominate a vendor or purchase a ticket, visit vendyawards.streetvendor.org.