A hot dog cart might be as much a part of New York City as the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, but what does it cost to run a portable eatery in one of the most expensive cities in the world?
Like everything else in New York City, it comes down to real estate. The cost of operating something as small as a hot dog cart all depends on where the operation is in the city. According to The New York Times, the areas around Central Park are the most expensive to get, with the spot near the Central Park Zoo being the priciest. In 2013, that prime spot cost $289,500 a year to run a hot dog cart. That is just the fee paid to the city and doesn’t include any other expenses the cart incurred. That’s a lot of hot dogs.
The other areas around Central Park where hot dog carts operate are almost as expensive, running more than $100,000 with some pushing past the $200,000 mark. The reason again is the prime real estate to sell hot dogs, but the city actually doesn’t set the price. These spots are bid on every five years with the highest bid receiving the permit to operate. These costs have increased dramatically over the last 10 years, and the city makes about $4.5 million a year on concession permits.
While the areas in Central Park are the most expensive, other parks outside of Manhattan are a little more affordable, if you could call it that. Fees in these other parks run in the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars to get a permit. If a food vendor runs their pushcart on the street, the permit to operate is much less, usually about $200, as they don’t have a specific spot of operation. But the city limits these vendor permits at 3,100, making them high in demand. Disabled veterans, however, are exempt from the fee because of an 1894 law allowing them to do so.
But with these high fees come a few problems. Some pushcart vendors can’t afford to pay and bid way over their head for a prime spot. They simply can’t make enough money to pay the monthly rent selling enough hot dogs. Others have bought up blocks of the capped 3,100 permits for street carts and then lease them out at an exorbitant rate to vendors. And some vendors have been caught inflating prices on their carts to unaware tourists which is against the law. Maximum prices and menu items have to be pre-approved by the New York City Parks Department, and price inflation is something the city has cracked down on.
The high rental rates don’t seem to be a deterrent to vendors as there seems to be a perpetual waiting list, but a more important question remains. Where do those pushcarts go at night? They are either loaded on flatbed trucks which can hold a few carts at a time, or they’re loaded in vans. Some have motors which allow them to be moved while others are simple moved by hand. Most of the time they are stored in garages in Western Manhattan where they can be restocked and readied for the next day. But this adds in yet another fee for these food vendors since they have to rent out the spot just to store their carts. All this requires selling a lot of hot dogs.