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September 29, 2020

Melee over food cart captures community attention

SANTA CRUZ—A recent clash between a Santa Cruz restaurant owner and a mobile hot dog vendor has drawn countywide attention, forcing one restaurant to close its doors and prompting demonstrations that have drawn hundreds of supporters.

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According to Santa Cruz Police spokeswoman Joyce Blaschke, the hot dog vendor was set up on the ocean side on the 300 block of Beach Street around 5:30pm on Saturday when she became involved in a confrontation with a man who owns the Falafel Hut, located at 309 Beach St.

Blaschke said that the Falafel Hut owner knocked over the hot dog cart, and the two got into a shoving match in which the hot dog vendor fell. Supporters of the vendor then went to the Falafel Hut, where they knocked over tables and chairs set up in front of the restaurant.

The hot dog vendor, identified as Linda Garcia, says that she sets up her cart every weekend through the summer. She says the money helps support her and her four children.

When the owner came over, Garcia said, he was hostile.

“He told me, ‘get out of here. I don’t want you here. We don’t want you here. Get out,’” Garcia said.

He then pushed her cart over, and pushed her to the floor as she was trying to pick up her stuff, Garcia said. Her daughter, who was helping her sell the hot dogs, got into a shoving match with the owner. 

Garcia then went over and pushed him to the ground because he was shoving her daughter, she said.

“It’s a grown man pushing my daughter,” she said. “How do you think I’m going to feel? I was sad, mad, terrified. I felt everything.”

Garcia estimates she lost roughly $400 due to the confrontation.

She said that food vendors set up at 5pm after the restaurants across the street close for the day.

But employees at the Falafel Hut and El Hermoso Mar, the Mexican restaurant next door, said they close around 7pm.

Garcia says she has a vendor permit from the City of Santa Cruz. But she does not have a permit from the Santa Cruz County Health Department, because she still needs a $1,100 pushcart in order to qualify for it. That pushcart comes with cold storage and a hand wash station, she said.

“I’m working to that,” Garcia said. “I’m saving up money to buy it so I can get the permit, because I know I need it.”

County spokesman Jason Hoppin said that Garcia has not yet applied for the permit, but said that code enforcement personnel have responded to complaints about her unsanctioned stand, which is set up on top of a hardware cart.

“That is not a food cart by any stretch of the imagination,” Hoppin said.

The incident, and the ensuing demonstrations, have impacted nearby businesses.

Facebook posts describing the event said that the owner of Beach Street Pizza and Bar was also harassing Garcia.

But owner Steve Mendoza said on Monday that he has never done so, and that he does not support the actions of the other restaurant’s owner.

“Beach Street Pizza and its employees do not condone this type of acts of harassment of any kind, to any people,” he said. “None of my staff were involved, nor would we support such acts of hate. Me and my staff work hard to keep our doors open through these trying times. We hope the vendor who was harassed is doing well, and that she recovers her losses.”

Still, the pizza restaurant’s Yelp page was bombarded with bad reviews and one-star ratings, and on Wednesday it was listed as permanently closed.

Meanwhile, an unidentified vandal was arrested Tuesday spray painting the words “racist” on the front of the Falafel Hut. That restaurant’s Yelp page has garnered so many negative reviews that Yelp posted an Unusual Activity Alert, and temporarily blocked new ones.

Calls to Falafel Hut rang without being answered. The number for Beach Street Pizza and Bar goes directly to a fax machine.

Garcia said she plans to keep operating her mobile vending business.

“Of course,” she said. “I love what I do and I need to support my kids.”

She also says she wishes the man who pushed over her cart well.

“God bless him,” she said. “We’re all human. We all make mistakes. I don’t know what was going through his head that day. I’d like to think he is not that person.”

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