By REBECCA ROSENBERG & DAVID SEIFMAN | NYPost.com
A gourmet cupcake vendor is refusing to pay his rent to the city for a coveted spot outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art because he’s in a battle with “rent-a-vets” trying to steal away his business.
Derek Hunt’s Cake & Shake cupcake cart is one of two food vendors who paid the Parks Department for the right to sell snacks on Fifth Avenue in front of the museum.
But Hunt is furious that since he won the contract — which calls for $9,900 monthly payments to the city — a year ago, his customers have been winnowed away by competitors who show up with hot-dog carts and don’t pay the city a dime — and the city, he says, has done nothing to stop them.
“If nothing’s done, I’ll be out of business by the end of October,” said a distraught Hunt.
The competitor carts claim a legal right to be there because they’re run by disabled veterans who have a special privilege to vend on public streets in the city under a decades-old law.
Hunt said that when he won his contract for the space owned by the Parks Department, valued at $659,000 over five years, he was told only one veteran would be permitted to join him and a pretzel cart at the location.
But in August, two or three more carts showed up — claiming to be run by veterans, too, grabbing a share of the business without having to pay any rent to the city.
“We need a lot of help. It’s a big problem,” said a woman named Rosie, who works for the Sigmund Pretzel Cart, which also pays the city.
“They won’t do anything — the cops, the city,” fumed Dan Rossi, the lone veteran who was approved to sell hot dogs outside the Met.
Hunt said he quickly lost 40 percent of his business, so he quit paying his franchise fees in August.
What really irks Hunt is that one of his unauthorized competitors is purportedly a former Parks Department franchisee who gave up a six-figure contract and now “rents a vet” to avoid paying the city.
The vets sit beside the cart to make it supposedly legitimate, while other workers peddle the food and drinks.
Parks officials said they’re well aware of the problem and are working with the NYPD — which hands out summonses virtually every day — to determine “if additional enforcement measures can be taken.”
Hunt is eager to keep selling his $3 organic cupcakes and $5 shakes, but he’s asking Parks officials for a reduced franchise fee until the illegals are booted.
“I said if you can’t get the guys out of here, we need to renegotiate the contract,” he said. “They said no renegotiating.”