Ms Morochoduchi has been arrested nearly a dozen times for illegally selling her pastries in the metro station, Mr Attia said, but she always returns there. “What does this show you? ” he said. “It shows you how important it is for her to make that money, to go out there and sell them.”
“Vendors do this because they need a job. It gives them the economic mobility to work, to save money, to start the American dream.
That’s what chicken over rice did for Mr. Attia. Today, he reports to an office in a Lower Manhattan skyscraper, has won a prestigious Emerging Regional Food Leaders Fellowship, and is on first-name basis with politicians like State Senator Jessica. Ramos, who is working with him this year on his pilot project to allow food vendors to use vacant storefronts at the Roosevelt Avenue-74th Street subway station in Jackson Heights, Queens.
When Mr. Attia arrived in New York from Alexandria, Egypt, on a tourist visa in 2008 at the age of 20, the only job he could get was working under the table in a bodega in Harlem for less than $7 an hour.
In Harlem, he noticed a halal food cart parked in front of the mosque he attended. The owner was Egyptian and they became friends. “Hey,” recalls Mr. Attia, the salesman said to him, “would you like to work on the street?”
For more than three years, Mr. Attia was dismissed employee on someone else’s cart – selling eggs on a roll at 110th Street and Broadway, peddling hot dogs in Times Square. He and his best friend, Ahmed Mohsen, also from Egypt, managed to save the $20,000 they needed to buy a smoothie cart and a seasonal permit at the underground market.
In 2016, they had a second smoothie cart and a year-round halal cart on Second Avenue near 86th Street called the East Side Grill. Along the way, Mr Attia married a New Yorker and got a green card, then became a US citizen. He moved to the Bronx and then to Queens and discovered the Street Vendor Project, part of the nonprofit Urban Justice Center.