City’s New Street Food Plans Unappealing for Mission’s Illegal Hot Dog Vendors

By Lauren Smiley, Thu., Nov. 4 2010 @ 2:55PM
​Street cart vendors have long complained that San Francisco’s expensive and Byzantine permitting process snuffs a potential rockin’ street food culture in the city.

Yet change is on the way. At Supervisor Bevan Dufty’s behest, the Planning Department is considering streamlining the cart permitting process on private property today, and the Board of Supervisors will mull tweaks for those on public property next week.

Even if the changes go through, one group of vendors will likely skip the chance to go legit altogether: the Mission’s bacon-wrapped hot dog hawkers. These entrepreneurs operate their adhoc, propane-powered, cookie-sheet carts with no one’s permission but that of the hundreds of customers lining up for a $3 hot dog before or after hitting the bars. Their hot dogs are 100 percent delicious. Even the Department of Health’s spokeswoman Eileen Shields told us, “Thank God we haven’t ruined these people by getting a permit. I’m sure they wouldn’t be anywhere as good!”
Yet the hot dog grillers work at their own peril: They work with a constant eye out for beat cops, who can ticket them for selling without a permit and impound their carts. In a story back in 2008, we recalled one vendor literally scurrying down the street with his cart to escape an oncoming officer. 

Caleb Zigas of the incubator kitchen La Cocina tells us the vendors remain “skeptical” of the potential new permits. Although the new rules would allow them to operate on corners legally, state law still requires the vendors to have a covered cart to be able to grill the franks on site — contraptions that can cost up to $30,000.

“The fact remains that it’s capital intensive,” Zigas says. “To do really good food still requires $30,000 in capital for a trailer.”

The vendors, mostly low-income immigrants, don’t have that kind of cash. But Zigas says he’s trying to find a solution to that, too. La Cocina has started conversations with the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development about starting a lease-to-own program, in which La Cocina would buy the carts to rent out to the vendors, like they have with the El Huarache Loco cart attempting to set up shop in Dolores Park.

Right now, the obstacle is finding money to buy the carts. “Clearly, [the mayor’s office] needs the money like we do, so we’re looking for funding sources,” Zigas says. 

The hot dog vendors showed signs of uniting to fight for legitimacy earlier this year, meeting at La Cocina to start United Vendors, or Vendedores Unidos. But Zigas tells us the organization has lost steam after the main vendor behind the effort, Lucero Munoz Arellano, got hooked up with the one legal hot dog cart in the Mission at the 24th Street BART station plaza. Munoz Arellano told us she’s been using the cart for about a month now, but then had to hang it up to get back to sizzling hot dogs.  

So, it appears for now that your bacon-wrapped hot dogs will remain just one of the many illegal substances sold on Mission Street. Whether they taste better that way is a matter for debate.

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