meet the VENDY awards 2018 finalists!
VENDY CUP 2018
BURMESE BITES - PEOPLE’S CHOICE WINNER
Myo Lin Thway came to the US from Burma to continue his education in 1994. Long before customers flocked to his stand at the Queens Night Market, he got his degree in mechanical engineering and then worked in the diamond district as an operations manager. Myo brought Burmese food to the masses at street fairs and later, became one of the most popular vendors at the Queens Night Market. In 2015, Myo was nominated for Best of Market vendor and now returns as a 2018 Vendy Cup Finalist. Myo’s market stand has since expanded into a standalone food cart that operates five days a week in Long Island City. You can follow Burmese Bites on Facebook and Instagram.
Franky Englezos was born in the business. His father started a hot dog cart in Astoria in 1970, but in 1979 the family began serving souvlaki, and they haven’t looked back since. Franky and his family have operated Franky’s Souvlaki from the same corner at 31st Ave and Steinway in Astoria for over 30 years. Franky’s continues to be a neighborhood staple, serving souvlaki sticks, gyro sandwiches, “Franky Fries,” and other traditional Greek fare. In 2015, the family upgraded their cart to a food truck and expanded their service to Long Island City. Franky and his family live in Queens. You can follow Franky’s on Facebook and on Instagram.
JIANNETTO'S PIZZA AND CATERING
When it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it. That’s the philosophy Joe Jiannetto follows when it comes to his grandmother’s recipe for Sicilian pizza. Jiannetto’s Pizza has been serving up “grandma-style” pies since 1998, and the food truck currently operates on 47th Street between Park and Madison Avenues. For Joe, who grew up working in pizza shops on Staten Island, making pizza is still a labor of love. When Joe makes the pie, though, the sauce always goes on top, just like grandma used to make. Joe is recently engaged and lives on Staten Island. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook. You can visit their website here.
EL SABOROSO DE ARACATACA
El Sabroso de Aracataca is owned by Luis Alfonso Marin Valencia who has sold Colombian arepas for the last 30 years in Jackson Heights, Queens. Luis Alfonso immigrated to the US from Colombia 35 years ago as a dancer and artist but found food as a way to stay close to his culture. Luis can be found making his famous arepas con queso Friday to Sunday beginning at 10pm. His cart pays tribute to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author of One Hundred Years of Solitude. The cart, adorned with yellow butterflies, features a quote from Marquez: “I feel Latin American from any country, but without renouncing the nostalgia for my land: Aracataca…”
ROYAL GRILL HALAL FOOD - VENDY CUP WINNER
MD Alam and his wife, Hira own Royal Grill Halal Food. They immigrated from Bangladesh in 1980. Hira, whose brother had operated a successful food cart nearby for many years, opened the cart in 2005 and Alam quit his restaurant management job to join her. For over 10 years, they have set up at 44th St and 6th Ave. Today they operate 7 days a week, often with lines stretching down towards 5th Avenue, preparing all their specialties such as chicken tikka masala and biryani with a unique blend of spices which Alam says is “prepared with love”. They live in Flushing, Queens with their 13 year old daughter. You can visit Royal Grill’s website here and follow them on Facebook
best breakfast vendor 2018
Lai Sheng Zhang and his wife, Natalie Wu are from Guangzhou, China. When they came to the US, Lai Sheng first worked as a cab driver. While the cart had been on Bowery and Grand Street for over 10 years, it wasn’t until Lai Sheng and his wife took over the business
4 years ago that it gained the notoriety it is known for today. Lines start forming at 7:30am for traditional southern Chinese breakfast staples including curry fish balls and rice noodles smothered with soy sauce, peanut sauce, hot sauce and topped off with a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Also sold are ready-to-order rice rolls that are prepared in a steamer and wrapped around fillings such as ground chicken, corn, and eggs. While they serve traditional breakfast foods, they are out until 5pm so you can have breakfast for lunch and even dinner. Lai Sheng and Natalie live in Chinatown with their 2 sons.
Evelia Coyotzi’s path to her Tamale cart began after 9/11 when she couldn’t return to her fast food job located in downtown Manhattan. She started selling tamales, a traditional Mexican breakfast dish made of masa and steamed in a corn husk, from a grocery shopping cart, but with increasing popularity was able to upgrade to a larger cart which she uses today. Evelia sets up every day at 4am at the corner of Junction Blvd and Roosevelt Avenue in Corona, Queens where she offers varieties of chicken, mole, and adobo tamalesalong with hot drinks such as champurrado (a type of Mexican hot chocolate) and arroz con leche (hot rice milk). Positioned right outside thetrain station, Evelia’s tamales are how many local residents start their day for breakfast and she is usually sold out by 11am.
As a native Austinite, Liz Solomon Dwyer’s love for breakfast tacos was unwavering but she couldn’t find anything that could compare since she moved to NYC 12 years ago. Named after her late father, Liz decided to start King David Taco to take on her father’s challenge to bring Austin-style breakfast tacos to the streets of NYC. In 2016 she left her career in advertising and with her husband Nate, started NYC’s first breakfast taco cart. With a location in Prospect Park and a 2nd cart in the Wall Street neighborhood, the tacos are prepared just like they are in Austin. Five inch flour tortillas are directly sourced from Austin and contain 4 types of fillings: the” BPEC” (bacon, egg, potato,and cheese), the “Queen Bean” (refried beans, eggs, potato and cheese), the “Ori’izo” (Mexican chorizo, egg, potato, and cheese) and “Mom’s Migas” (eggs, tortilla chips, salsa, jalapenos, and cheese). You can check out King David Tacos’ website here. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.
Joanna Despas, better known as “Mama Jo” to her customers, has been serving breakfast on the corner of 47th and Park Ave for 35 years. After running donut shops in the 1980s, she decided to branch out to a cart business. She originally served breakfast and lunch but after being hit by a car in 2001, she cut back her hours to focus on breakfast. Starting at 2am till 11am, you can find Jo’s exuberant energy preparing breakfast sandwiches, omelettes and pastries but what sets her cart apart are the Greek dishes such as spanakopita, kolokithopita, and olive bread - all made from scratch and what she grew up making with her grandmother in Greece. Check out her website. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
When Yunus Shahul immigrated from India to the US in July 2005, he had a meal at Saravana Bhavan, a South Indian restaurant chain that started in Chennai and had an outpost in Manhattan. That meal transported him right back to Chennai. He ended up applying for a job at that very restaurant and 10+ years later, he and his wife now operate the restaurant along with two other locations in the Upper West Side and Long Island. In March 2018, they launched their food truck and now serve some of their restaurant favorites including dosas and uthappams, in downtown Manhattan. Follow the truck on Instagram.
BEST ROOKIE VENDOR 2018
JAK! is a combination of the 3 owners’ names: Joseph, Alden, & Kristy. Joseph and Alden grew up in Chinese immigrant families in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. They met in fourth grade, played handball together at the local courts, and stayed friends into their twenties. One day, while working for the Parks Department, Alden visited Joseph, who happened to be working on a Japanese food truck. They had a vision. Soon thereafter, along with Kristy, a social media expert, they launched their Taiwanese food truck, showcasing their take on the traditional lunchbox (‘bien dang”) dish. Parking mostly in midtown since April 2018, they serve their fried chicken leg or pork chop over a combination of veggies and tea leaf egg, with a minced pork sauce that brings all those flavors together. You can follow them on Twitter and Instagram.
Makina Cafe was founded in August 2017 by Eden G. Egziabher who is originally from Ethiopia and of Eritrean descent. After working in the food industry throughout college, Eden transitioned to the corporate marketing world but her love for the food world never dissipated. Inspired by the vibrant mix of Ethiopian, Eritrean and Italian cultures that she grew up with, she now serves the unique blend of flavors of her home country in her bright yellow truck throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. She prides herself on being the first Eritrean-American female entrepreneur in NYC with a food truck serving Habesha food. Used as a term of pride, the word “Habesha” is used to eliminate the distinction between different tribes of Eritrea and Ethiopia and celebrates the unity of people of the same region. The three leaves in her logo represent the unity of the 3 cultures that have so closely defined her upbringing while “makina” translates to “truck” in all 3 of the countries’ languages. Check out their website here. Find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
When brothers Hakan and Yelhan Cingir were growing up in Eskisehir, Turkey, they father owned a expansive outdoor barbeque restaurant. Attending the prestigious Bosphorus University, in Istanbul, the brothers swore they would never work in the food business. But after moving to New York in 2000 and working in banking, they returned to their roots. They opened a deli specializing in Turkish cuisine in the Upper West Side, then a hot dog cart in Central Park, across from their cafe. In November 2017, they opened their Turkish food cart in Lower Manhattan, where all the menu items from scratch offering everything from gozleme, kofta, hummus, lentil soup to zucchini pancakes. You can find them on the Ritual app.
The Mr. Khao Man Gai cart might only be a few months old but Bank Bancha and Chompoo Sasikan aren’t rookies to the street vendor world. They have operated a Thai cart for several years serving the midtown lunch crowd but wanted to recreate the evening outdoor dining experience that they were so familiar with back home in Thailand. Khao man gai - a simple poached chicken served with ginger and garlic - is the cart’s namesake, hand prepared in limited quantities and currently sold between 6:30pm-11pm on weekdays. While pad thai might get all the attention in the US, Bancha and Sasikan believe khao man gai is the true Thai street food staple. After launching in Jackson Heights to see if it would pass the discerning taste buds of the Thai community there, they are finally ready to bring Mr. Khao Man Gai to Manhattan with extended service during the lunch hours but they will continue to bring the nighttime energy that Thailand is known for at their spot in Jackson Heights. You can follow them on Facebook and Instagram.
Mo Rahmati was born in Woodside, Queens, into a family of Afghan refugees who fled their country in the 1980’s during the Soviet-Afghan War. Mo went to school in Queens and then took a series of jobs in retail, driving Uber, and working at Citibank. He knew that there was a large community of Afghan street vendors in NYC, most of whom sell coffee and bagels. None sell real Afghan food, like his mother makes - from kormas to kabuli to salata to his favorite, mantu (steamed dumplings stuffed with beef and onions). After several years of planning, he launched his food truck in January 2018. Soon, lines were forming at his spot in Chelsea, giving Mo and his brother the confidence to start a bakery and restaurant in College Point, which will open soon. Find out more about Nansense on their website and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.
BEST MARKET VENDOR 2018
Husband and wife duo, Keith and Judy were in the middle of planning their wedding in 2015 when they could not find a caterer that offered the varied menu they were looking for. Keith is Trinidadian American and Judy is Puerto Rican and Dominican. They wanted a reception spread that included each of their favorite foods reflecting their Caribbean American backgrounds. Unhappy with what they found, they decided to cater their own wedding reception! CaSpanish is the fusion blending homestyle Spanish cuisine with a Trinidadian twist. From empanadas to rasta pasta and roti, their vision is to emphasize cultural similarities, promote engagement with others, and foster strong, diverse communities. You can find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
D’Abruzzo NYC was started by Tommaso Conte in August 2017. While growing up on Long Island, Tommaso’s family, in particular his nonno (grandfather) instilled in him the values, traditions, and work ethic that he learned in Abruzzo, a rugged mountainous region is southern Italy. Early on, Tommaso grew tomatoes, helped make wine in his Cantina and turned the soil in his nonno’s garden. This connection to the land at an early age has inspired Tommaso to pay homage to his roots with D’Abruzzo (meaning “of Abruzzo”), where the focus is on simple, fresh ingredients from the Abruzzese region, which he hopes to shine a spotlight on with his food. His staples include arrosticini, simple skewers made from tender pieces of lamb and served with a homemade spicy oil, and pizzelles, traditional waffles cookies served with chocolate. You can find him at Smorgasburg, Forest Hills Stadium and at various pop-up events throughout NYC. Check our their website. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram.
Hometown Spring Pancakes is operated by Annie Ye who is from Wenzhou, China. After a successful venture with her CBao Asian Buns stand which launched in 2013 at various food festivals, Annie wanted to showcase a lesser known snack that is native to northern China, the spring pancake which she launched in May 2018. Annie makes each pancake fresh to order and then fills each with fresh vegetables and meat. She currently operates Hometown and CBao alongside each other at different festivals and pop-ups throughout NYC and proud to showcase the food of her hometown. You can follow them on Instagram and their website.
For partners Manila and Kristen, IEatLaoFood started off in 2015 as intimate backyard gatherings to share Lao food with their friends and family where they sat on the ground and ate with their hands, as they do in Laos culture. Manila, who was born in a Laotian refugee camp in the Philippines and Kristen, a native Brooklyn resident, was inspired by the ability to bring so many different people together of all backgrounds. They are now using their platform to connect more people to Laotian culture and other marginalized communities. They continue to host pop-ups, private events and catering with long term plans to create permanent stands and private cooking classes that will continue to spread the Laotian traditions. You can visit their website here. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Taste of Surabaya was started by Fefe Anggono, who was born and raised in Surabaya, Indonesia. After immigrating to the US and operating a restaurant for 8 years, she decided to sell it off but she couldn’t shake the entrepreneurial spirit when she saw an opportunity host a fundraiser for her church by selling food. Since then, she has since become the organizer of the monthly NY Indonesian Food Bazaar in Woodside, Queens which has been in operation for 5 years. She runs her own stand but also acts as the connector in bringing different Indonesian food vendors together to highlight the diversity of Indonesian culture and works closely with the Indonesian embassy to put together cultural programs. You can find follow them on Facebook.
BEST DESSERT VENDOR 2018
Trisha and Lloyd’s journey started in March 2014 when their car was hit in an accident. After a gathering with friends over their infamous banana pudding, a close friend insisted on paying for their share of the pudding and started a “Repair Fund” for the car. News of the fundraiser spread among friends, family, and strangers. Soon enough, they were inundated with orders and raised enough money in two months to fix the car. Inspired by the positive response and the outpouring of support, a business idea was born and they have since taken their #Baonanas to the masses by vending at markets, pop-ups, and private catering. Find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Gaston Becherano and Theo Friedman started Bonsai Kakigōri after a trip to Japan left them craving the shaved ice dessert but couldn’t find anything like it back in NY. Other shaved ice and snow variations couldn’t compare. Frustrated and determined, they set out to make their own. They ordered an original hand-cranked kakigōri machine from Japan, nicknamed it ”humi” after their favorite kakigōri shop in Tokyo, began testing flavors, sharing with friends and Bonsai Kakigōri was born. Since launching their stall in Canal Street Market in 2018, they have sought to honor the Japanese roots of the dessert but also meld it with a unique blend of flavors and their identities as New Yorkers. Check out their website and find them on Facebook and Instagram.
Obleas, a traditional street food throughout South and Central America, are thin round wafers used to create sweet sandwiches, usually with caramel and other fillings in-between. Delmy Zelaya, originally from El Salvador, has been making obleas since 2013 after she saw them being sold at a local church. She recruited a friend to teach her how to make them, and has since been selling these sweet treats throughout Corona, Queens. Before she became a street vendor, Delmy had a diverse career, working in an auto mechanic shop, owning a clothes factory in Astoria, and even working as a “Canner,” helping to recycle cans and bottles found on street corners. Delmy’s obleas are homemade, not factory bought, where she creates each one with her own presser. Delmy’s specialty flavors include dulce de leche, cajetas with coconut sprinkles, blackberry and caramel.
Pooja Bavishi’s love for dessert started at a young age and never faded even as she pursued a career in public policy. She had always dreamed of starting her own business and upon completing her MBA, decided to take her baking/cooking hobby into a business. Malai, which means “cream of the crop” in a North Indian language, was born in 2015 and is inspired by the spices and ingredients of Pooja’s South Asian heritage while putting modern twists on old classics. With flavors like masala chai, orange fennel seed, and lemon cardamom, Pooja continues to craft all of Malai's ice cream by hand at Pilotworks Brooklyn, and is continually energized by introducing her passions to more people. Check out their new pop-up here and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Twister Cake, owned by Radu Sirbu, is a family owned and operated mobile bakery which sells their namesake dessert. Also known as Chimney Cakes, they originated over 400 years ago from Romania and consist of hand-rolled dough, shaped into a cone and then baked over a fire pit and sprinkled with sweet toppings. Radu learned to bake the cakes from his grandmother in Transylvania but couldn’t find them when he moved to the U.S. in 2002, so he sought to recreate these childhood treats on his own. Radu continues to use his grandmother’s original recipe made fresh with only 7 ingredients. Radu works as a chauffeur during the week and spends his weekends making Twister Cakes at street festivals and private events, with plans to open a storefront and offer packaged Twister Cakes in the future. Find out more on their website and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.