Drumroll, please! The 12th Annual Vendy Awards, New York City’s leading street food competition, has announced the finalists for this year’s surprise special category: vegan! Finalists in the new category, as well as the finalists in the Best Market Vendor, Best Dessert, and Rookie of the Year categories, were chosen from nominations by New York street food lovers. On September 17th, the vendors will be back at Governors Island for a heated grill-to-grill cook-off. The competition is sure to be fierce—as only one winner can come out on top for each category.
While all finalists have vegetarian options available, the vendors in the new vegan category are finding mouth-watering ways to help plant-based dishes meet the changing health needs and preferences of New Yorkers, all while upholding the delicious and creative style of street food. The six finalists are: Monk’s Meat, Vegan Bandwagon, Yeah Dawg, Jerk Shack, Mysttik Masaala, and Bamboo Bites.
- Monk’s Meat serves plant-based proteins that they make from wheat and have expanded their focus to vegan BBQ. You can find their vegan smokehouse at Smorgasburg, where they have been serving extraordinary food that happens to be vegan for three years. Owners and seitan specialists Rebecca Lopez-Howes and Chris Kim have both been vegetarian and vegan for over 20 years. They love the food they make and enjoy sharing it with everyone.
- Vegan Bandwagon’s owner Wes Fabro was raised in Los Angeles in the 1990s, surrounded by city life and diversity, where he became enthralled in volunteering and organic farming. As a disabled veteran, he is ready to serve healthy and eco-friendly products to everyone in NYC and has a goal of employing other disabled veterans on his food cart. In addition to launching The Vegan Bandwagon in partnership with Marty’s V Burger, he is trained as an audio engineer and currently works for a mobile food vendor doing food prep and service. This experience has shown him what it takes to succeed in the business and he is excited to make a meaningful impact in this industry.
- Yeah Dawg’s owner Marina Benedetto started Yeah Dawg in June of 2013 after having spent the previous 5.5 years working at a homeless youth shelter as a chef and counselor. Her job at the shelter was to introduce kids that were used to fast food to healthy meals and had to make the meals accessible and culturally familiar. This is where her mission of reinventing “Classic American” food began. The Yeah Dawg team believes that people can be healed by food, and their food is made from love with the goal of a better tomorrow for people, animals, and the environment. Yeah Dawg offers a refreshing and healthy take on classics such as hot dogs and burgers.
- Jerk Shack is a family-owned food truck that’s spicing up the city with classic Caribbean cuisine. Founder Elsie Darrell’s interest in the kitchen first developed at an early age growing up in Guyana. The second youngest of 14 children, she would help her mother cook dinner for their family every night. At age 17, Elsie moved to New York City, where she and her sisters ran a successful Caribbean restaurant in Harlem. However, due to steep rent hikes, they were forced to shut down. Elsie is the head chef of Jerk Shack, with her son J. Anthony, his wife Kelly and their daughter, Khloe heavily involved in both their food truck, which can be found in front of Harlem Hospital, and their market stall at Vendy Plaza. The Jerk Shack specializes in traditional Caribbean cuisine, which includes vegan meals inspired by the traditional Ital Rastafarian diet.
- Mysttik Masaala livens up Midtown with its flavorful, fiery Indian food. Originally from Bombay, Yuvaraaj Thakkar previously worked in the jewelry business. It was his son, Rishi’s dream to sell home-cooked Indian food using high quality spices directly flown in from India. He has since handed over his jewelry business to his brother and sister so that he has the freedom to run Mysttik Masaala and feed “heavenly meals” to New Yorkers. Mysttik Masaala’s cart can be found 7 days a week in Midtown at 54th Street & Park Ave and always serves several vegan offerings.
- Bamboo Bites’ founder Daniel Miller, while traveling in Southeast Asia, made genuine connections with amazing people, often through food. His curiosity overtook him when he discovered what looked like bamboo sticks being sold along the roadside; he had to see what was inside…What he found was sweet sticky rice, even more irresistible than its cool bamboo casing. Bamboo Bites now shares sticky rice, snacks and street foods with people inspired by genuine travel and human connection. Focusing on flavors from places where bamboo grows, their recipes will take you to far-away lands…How do you Bamboo?
The Best Market Vendor honors vendors who are changing the game at street fairs and outdoor markets by utilizing locally-sourced ingredients and innovative techniques to put exciting spins on classic dishes. The five finalists are: Big Mozz, Arepalicious, NJS, MATZAHBREI, and Tuson Sate.
- Big Mozz launched in 2015 at Smorgasburg, where they hand-stretch fresh mozzarella live at the market. Their dishes are vibrant and seasonal, and they take care to source all ingredients sustainably and responsibly. Owners Elliott Anderson, Matt Gallira, Jimmy Warren, who all have diverse backgrounds came together to start Big Mozz. Elliott came to Big Mozz with a background in corporate finance, paired with an outsized love of all things food. You can find him behind the Mozz Bar every weekend, stretching the freshest mozzarella you’ve ever tasted. Matt joined Big Mozz after starting The Atlantic Ave. Company, a startup food business specializing in hand-made pasta sauce. Jimmy joined the Big Mozz team after graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education. Between creating new and exciting recipes with Matt and running the line at the Big Mozz stall. You can try their small batch mozzarella every weekend at Smorgasburg, or at a private catering or stretching class.
- Arepalicious has been making a splash this year, expanding into the market scene at Vendy Plaza and Queens Night Market. Owner Danny Atehortua works for the City of New York and started his arepa business three years ago as a way to help save for his children’s future. He and his wife are both from Colombia and decided to sell these corn-based delights because they represent their cultural heritage. The whole family helps with the business, selling their traditional arepas made of 100% white corn and topped with cheese, avocado and/or meats, as well as arepa cones, which offer a unique spin on this Colombian staple. This vendor connects to and shares his Colombian culture through his cheese arepas, showing off culinary prowess by making deliciously distinctive arepa cones.
- NJS is truly a family affair, owned by mother and son team, Nancy and Jean Paul Medina. Along with several family members, they sell “Colombian-style” hot dogs at LIC Flea & Food on weekends. Each NJS hot dog is topped with homemade sauce, pickled vegetables, fresh fruit preserves, potato chips and more to balance out the sweet and salty. The Medinas believe that their love for food and family shines through in their all-natural hot dogs.
- MATZAHBREI Born and raised in Tel Aviv, Sagi and Eyal are both musicians now based in NYC. Sagi has an indie rock/pop band called James Dawn and Eyal is a commercial and music video cinematographer. MATZAHBREI is completely vegetarian, only uric cage-free eggs and can also be prepared vegan. The inspiration behind this business is to provide a modern update to this wonderful Passover dish and make it available to all people, all year long. MATZAHBREI can be found at the Hester Street Fair, HBO Summer Film Festival and Astoria Night Market.
- Tuson Sate has some superior staying power, putting personal prints on traditional Indonesian food for the last 16 years. These vendors know the importance of building community and sharing culture through food. In 1999, Tuti served her satay to her daughter’s birthday party guests. It was so successful that friends and family started ordering satay from her. One week later, she began selling at the Indonesian Community Mosque in Queens, where she still sells Indonesia’s favorite street food on Fridays. Every Indonesian in NYC knows Tuti’s satay! So, Wulan, Charlie and Dian all stepped in to help Tuson Sate branch out into Manhattan in early 2016. Their goal is to make Indonesian food famous in the same way that Japanese, Chinese and Thai dishes are recognized. In addition to the Indonesian Community Mosque, their grilled beef, chicken and seitan skewers can be found at Hester Street Fair and Bryant Park.
Vendors in the Best Dessert category know a thing or two about satisfying a sweet tooth, be it light and frosty or rich and decadent. The five finalists are: Delmy’s Obleas, A Lil’ Bit of Fun, The Good Batch, Sweetface Snoballs, and Raindrop Cake.
- Delmy’s Obleas’ owner lives in Astoria and has been selling obleas, the caramel-filled Colombian wafers in Jackson Heights for three years. Delmy is from El Salvador and came to the U.S. in 1972. She became a street vendor after injuries prevented her from continuing in her previous career. She enjoys meeting new people and learning about their cultures, so selling obleas connects her with many different types of people. When you stop by her cart under the Junction Boulevard subway stop, make sure to try the oblea with blackberry filling!
- A Lil’ Bit of Fun is run by fiancés August Majorand John DeWindt, who are obsessed with funnel cakes and sell their sweet (and savory!) treats at LIC Flea & Food. In addition to offering innovative flavors and toppings, they’ve reinvented the funnel cake by offering manageable portions that are gluten-free for all to enjoy. As a young black couple, their goal is for A Lil’ Bit of Fun to give hope to their community and inspire peers to become entrepreneurs.
- The Good Batch Chefs Anna Gordon and Steve Hurting started out six years ago. Their mission is to bring joy to the community through delicious, thoughtfully-prepared treats inspired by their culture, seasons and cravings. The Good Batch sells their unique twist on ice cream sandwiches (you don’t always need cookies to hold your ice cream in place!) from their ice cream cart at Smorgasburg and The Brooklyn Flea.
- Sweetface Snoballs sells authentic New Orleans “snoballs” that are made by authentic New Orleanian Rebecca Duckert. When people think of New Orleans as a food destination, gumbo, étouffée and beignets come to mind. However, since she was a little girl, Rebecca’s favorite treat has been the snoball, NOLA’s version of shaved ice made with machines patented in New Orleans. Sweetface Snoballs offers favorites like “nectar” and “Creole Cream Cheese” flavors along with experimental and sugar-free options. Sweetface Snoballs was borne out of Rebecca’s personal nostalgia for her hometown and the foods of her childhood. You can find her at LIC Flea, plus other markets and festivals throughout the NYC area.
- Raindrop Cake, the latest craze to hit the street food scene, is run by Darren Wong and his teammates Kyle Cheung and Thu Dang. They have been vending at Smorgasburg for only a few months, but their raindrop has already made a splash! The Raindrop Cake is inspired by traditional mizu shingen mochi from Japan and comes with a variety of toppings, such as roasted soy bean powder and sweet matcha sauce. Darren worked in advertising for ten years before leaving to focus on Raindrop Cake full-time. He loves introducing people to this light, delicate and refreshing raindrop made for your mouth.
Vendors in the Rookie of the Year category might be new in town, but they certainly have already left their mark on the culinary world. The six finalists are: Puran Dhaka, Los Viajeros, Harlem Seafood Soul, Sisig City, The Basket, and Mr. Bing.
- Puran Dhaka is the first food cart in New York City exclusively serving Bengali food. Owned by Michael, a DJ, Russell a promoter and Andrew, owner of a salon and spa, Puran Dhaka is the first food cart in New York City exclusively serving Bengali food. With Chef Jewels and cart operator Ammad, Puran Dhaka sells authentic biryani and samosas just as they are served in Bangladesh. You can find their cart in Jackson Heights and Astoria for dinner and Wall Street Plaza for lunch.
- Los Viajeros food truck owners’Caitlyn and Carlos are a foodie couple who not only are self-taught chefs but also built their own food truck! Carlos has been a firefighter in the Bronx for many years and continues to work for FDNY when not on the food truck. Caitlyn has worked in the food and beverage industry for years and wanted to do something of her own. Los Viajeros began serving tacos, burritos and quesadillas last year because they love Latin flavors and are inspired by Dominican, Cuban and Mexican cultures. The Los Viajeros Food Truck can be found in Manhattan at the Flatiron building and in Uptown Manhattan at La Marina as well as in the Bronx at Jacobi Medical Center. Caitlyn and Carlos have always been inspired by food and traveling. Each country they’ve visited has influenced their business. Los Viajeros, meaning “the travelers” seemed like the perfect fit for the name of their new food truck.
- Harlem Seafood Soul is Harlem’s #1 eco-friendly mobile food kitchen! Tami Treadwell, who has lived in Harlem her entire life, is passionate about her menu offerings of shrimp and grits, po’ boys and other tasty seafood specialties that are sold out of her beautiful cart in West Harlem. For many years, Tami cooked and sold food out of her church. She launched Harlem Seafood Soul in March 2016 and is already gearing up for a second cart to hit the streets this summer.
- Sisig City, It has been a long time coming but is finally here: A Filipino-inspired food truck in New York City! As owner Manny Imperial grew up in the food industry and learned the uniqueness of Filipino cuisine, he always felt fortunate to have been able to build an incredible palette of Filipino flavors! This is what fuels Manny’s goal: to bring Filipino food to the streets of NYC for everyone. Filipinos, as well as those who thrive on new and adventurous flavor experiences, love Sisig City’s twist on tacos, nachos and quesadillas.
- The Basket’s picnic-themed cart can be found at several locations, including Central Park. Dondi McKellar and his team recently launched The Basket to provide gourmet sandwiches, charcuterie and cheeses to New Yorkers ready for a picnic in the park. Previously, Dondi worked as a street vendor selling bubble blowers. Dondi, a U.S. disabled navy veteran, is heavily involved in the Street Vendor Project’s Veterans Committee and recently joined his community board in the South Bronx.
- Mr. Bing specializes in traditional Chinese street food. Owner Brian Goldberg, born and raised in New York, fell in love with jianbing while studying Chinese in Beijing in 1998, where there was a street cart right outside his school that fed students and locals these hot and fresh Chinese crepes daily. Made right in front of his eyes and customized to his liking, jianbing was the perfect meal-on-the-go, anytime of day or night. After moving back to the U.S., Brian missed jianbing so much that he and his friends held reunion parties just to recreate the experience at home. It was then that Brian realized he wasn’t the only one obsessed with “the bing.” He is excited to introduce the world to this traditional Chinese street food.
Stay tuned! Finalists for the highly coveted Vendy Cup, the top prize awarded by a panel of esteemed judges, will be announced in the coming weeks, and the crowd will get to determine which of those finalists will walk away with the People’s Choice Award. In 2015, fan-favorite Snow Day swept the competition, going home with both the Vendy Cup and People’s Choice Award. More information on this year’s finalists who will compete for their profession’s highest honor can be found at: http://www.vendyawards.streetvendor.org/newyorkcity/
A limited number of Early Entry VIP tickets ($145) to the event are available. For street food lovers who want to access the Vendy Awards an hour early, VIP tickets ensure the ultimate street eating experience, with shorter lines, goodie bags, and other exclusive perks. Tickets are available HERE.
Apply here to request a press pass for the 2016 Vendys. The deadline to request press passes is Wednesday, August 31th.
ABOUT THE STREET VENDOR PROJECT AT THE URBAN JUSTICE CENTER
The Vendy Awards, the first and largest street food event series in the country, are an annual event organized by the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center, a membership-based organization of more than 1,800 active vendors who are working together to create a vendor movement for permanent change. SVP’s famed Vendy Awards have determined New York City’s top street chef for eleven years, and have become one of the most beloved and widely-anticipated food events in New York and across the country. The money raised by the events supports the non-profit Street Vendor Project in its advocacy work to promote street food and the people who sell it.
The Street Vendor Project is part of the Urban Justice Center, a non-profit organization that provides legal representation and advocacy to various marginalized groups of New Yorkers. To join their list of supporters, please click here. Follow the Street Vendor Project on Twitter at @VendorPower.