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A Chat With The Big Cheese of the Vendy Awards

Unless you have been living under a very large rock, you may have noticed that Food Trucks have exploded in popularity in the past few years. This Saturday at Penn Treaty Park in Fishtown, the 4th Annual Vendy Awards are back with a vengence to crown the best in Food Truck-ery in Philly! Tickets are still available and all proceeds go to The Food Trust (the gang that runs Night Market), a worthy organization that makes sure there is healthy food out there for everyone.

We had a little chat with Zeina Muna, the Managing Director of the Vendy Awards, to get some delicious facts on this fun event benefitting a worthwhile cause.

How did the Vendy Awards come about?
The Vendy Awards’ modest beginnings took place in 2005 in an East Village (NYC) garage with only a handful of vendors. The Street Vendor Project was a young organization and wanted an occasion to celebrate NYC’s street food and an opportunity to showcase the vendors we represented. Today, we have expanded across the country to include events in Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Philadelphia!

How did you end up as Managing Director of the delicious Vendy Awards?
I have personally attended the Vendy Awards in NYC for the past 7 years. In 2011 I was lucky enough to be selected as a Citizen Judge to join the judge’s table to help pick the eventual winner of the 2011 NYC Vendy Cup! Needless to say it has been a thrill to be part of the organization and watch it grow – so when the opportunity came I put my name in the hat and the rest is history!

How did the SVP come to be as a part of the Urban Justice Center?
The Street Vendor Project joined the Urban Justice Center upon its founding in 2001. The Urban Justice Center has since operated as a collective of ten small projects that share common overhead costs and a common social justice mission.

Has there been an increased awareness to the plight of the vendor over the past few years with food trucks being so overwhelmingly popular?
Being a street vendor is a very difficult job – something that eaters of street food often do not know. Vendors are small business people struggling to make ends meet by working long hours, multiple jobs, and often in stressful conditions. Set up costs and maintenance are incredibly expensive and time consuming. To top that, there are often laws in place that are confusing or inconsistently monitored which can limit the availability of permits, where a food vendor can operate, and the health codes to follow.. In some ways, the rapid growth of street food has given people the impression that its easy to set up as a newbie – but the fact is its incredibly easy to have to shut down as well!

Are there plans to start new chapters of the Street Vendor project in the other cities in which the Vendy Awards happen, or are there
similar organizations out there?
There are no plans, at this time, but perhaps eventually! For now the goal is for these events to act as a fundraiser for local organizations in each city that have similar values to us.

Has there been a large growth in interest in the Vendy’s over the years?
Absolutely! Our audiences have grown and we are constantly getting requests to open in new cities. We have also seen a lot of our winners from prior years go on to grow – opening multiple trucks and even restaurants in some cases.

Finally, what is your favorite kind of food cart food, and what city do you think does it best?
I’d never kiss & tell! But in all honesty that is almost impossible to answer…. the quality, range, and quantity of food carts is so immense. Each chef has his or her own personal twist and each city has its own vibe and specialties. One of the best part of the Vendys is being able to try food from each truck, so that you are able to try a vendor you may not come across on your regular route, or give a shot to a type of food you wouldn’t ordinarily try. And every time I come to an event like this I am blown away by how exciting street food can be. They are all my favorites!
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