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New food business opportunities a boost to NYC economy

Vendy Plaza's first launched in 2014.

Vendy Plaza's first launched in 2014. Photo Credit: Vendy Plaza

Whether indoors or outdoors, the growth of non-traditional food businesses has been a big boost for up-and-coming restaurateurs and New York's economy over the last few years.

Obviously, the city is famous for having some of the finest dining options in the world, but experts say the open-space locations level the playing field and in turn draw hungry visitors to the unsung parts of the city.

"It brings variety to the neighborhood and outlets for employment for artisans and chefs who may not have been able to afford the brick and mortar," said Cesar N. Fuentes, the manager of Vendy Plaza, a seasonal food venue in Harlem that includes several food trucks.

Fuentes, who used to work with the Red Hook Food Vendors, said the plazas used to be more of a word-of-mouth tradition, but with the internet and social media, demand has risen. Restaurateurs and other entrepreneurs jumped on the trend and created a new city industry.

"Having this enterprise, really serves as a focus of employment and a neighborhood hub," he said.

The city doesn't track the profits from outdoor food courts and halls, since most of the money goes directly to the vendors, however elected officials noted that they have been very successful for mom-and-pop eateries. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who helped to establish Vendy Plaza with the city's Economic Development Corporation, said the plaza also helps New Yorkers discover their diversity.

"Small-business owners, like food cart vendors, are the backbone of New York City's economy and the fabric of our neighborhoods," she said in a statement.

Recently, the food plazas have also served as strong entry points to the parts of the Big Apple that are in transition. The venues popped up in places like downtown Manhattan and Corona.

Vendy Plaza's location was key, according to Fuetnes, because it was situated under the Metro North elevated tracks at 115th Street and Park Avenue, which was abandoned during the '70s.

"I think it's a wonderful thing. It makes a creative use of an otherwise vacant lot and make a purpose for it," Fuentes said.

He added that he expected to see more plazas pop up in the future and for competition to get tighter as the chefs fight for prime space. This, however, isn't necessarily a bad thing for the city.

"I like to believe that there is a natural evolution to markets and restaurants. New York has the richest history of street vending and outdoor food places and it's still growing," he said.


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