Food cart operators in Manhattan are losing money as coronavirus fears keep their otherwise regular customers away, the struggling workers said Wednesday.
Ahmed Froogh, 56, who sets up his breakfast cart at Union Square West and East 14th Street every day, said that the morning used to be a busy time for him — but now his business is down 40 percent.
“I am here from 5:30 and nobody came until 7 o’clock,” Froogh said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I talk to my wife. I talk to my kids. I told them I don’t know what’s going to happen if it gets worse.”
Froogh said he even bought a bottle of hand sanitizer for his customers to use — but someone stole it.
The worker, who usually gives over any leftover food to the homeless, said he has even more to dole out now that customers are few and far between.
“It is really concerning,” said one loyal customer, Hilly Wuertz, 54, an architect. “I come here all the time. I get my coffee here every morning. It’s important to support him. I feel bad for him. We need to support each other.”
Mohammad Isa, 35, who operates a cart only a block away, said he only sold a single coffee for $1.50 over a 15-minute window around the 9 a.m. rush.
“Business is down,” he said. “It is very slow. I used to make at least $150 per day. Now I’m down to $40 or $50 a day. This [virus] is killing my business. A lot of my customers used to come from the train. Now, everybody is scared. It’s very empty, not a lot of people on the streets. I’ve never seen it like this.”
Isa — who has a wife and two kids and pays $1,800 a month in rent for a one-bedroom apartment — said he’s considering making money elsewhere.
“I am watching this for another month,” he said. “If there is no change, I am going to switch [jobs]. I am going to drive Uber or TLC.”
Constantino Medina, who runs a nearby cart with his wife, said the couple normally makes $300 to $400 each day. Since the coronavirus outbreak, they make less than $100 on some days.
“Since this week I have seen the difference,” said Medina, who has three children. “It is bothering me. I’m always thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ The bills, they don’t wait for you. They come every month.”
Even a nearby brick-and-mortar coffee shop, Newsbar, at University Place near East 13th Street, is struggling to cope with a loss in business. Owner Jan Balascak said the lack of college students in the area — including those from NYU, which has switched to remote classes — is taking a toll.
“Losing the college crowd is big, it’s huge,” Balascak said. “We used to get a lot of business from them. Right now all my staff is OK, but God forbid if someone gets sick. Who knows what’s going to happen.”
Business is so bad, he said, that he’s considering cutting staff and reducing orders from suppliers.
“I have been here for 20 years and this is the first time we’re feeling the impact like this,” he said, adding that online orders are picking up, but that’s not enough.
“Sometimes there’s a constant line but at some point it might be empty,” Balascak said. “I am concerned though because I have bills to pay.”
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