Clash Over Food Cart gets community attention

A recent clash between a Santa Cruz restaurant and a mobile hot dog vendor caught the attention of the entire county, forcing a restaurant to close and sparking protests that drew hundreds of people.

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

Blaschke said the Falafel Hut owner knocked over the hot dog cart and the two got into a scuffle match in which the hot dog vendor fell. The vendor’s supporters then proceeded to the Falafel shack, where they knocked over tables and chairs set up in front of the restaurant.

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

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

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

He then pushed his cart and pushed her to the ground as she tried to pick up her things, Garcia said. His daughter, who was helping him sell the hot dogs, got into an argument with the owner.

Garcia then went to him and pushed him to the ground because he was pushing his daughter, she said.

“It’s an adult pushing my daughter,” she says. “How do you think I’ll feel?” I was sad, angry, terrified. I felt it all.”

Garcia estimates she lost about $400 as a result of the confrontation.

She said she and other food vendors set up shop at 5 p.m. after, she said, restaurants across the street closed for the day.

But employees at the Falafel Hut and El Hermoso Mar, the nearby Mexican restaurant, said they closed around 7 p.m.

Garcia says she has a vendor’s license from the city of Santa Cruz. But she doesn’t have a permit from the Santa Cruz County Health Department because she still needs a $1,100 stroller to qualify. This push cart comes with a cold room and a hand-washing station, she said.

“I work for this,” Garcia said. “I’m saving money to buy it to get the permit because I know I need it.”

County spokesman Jason Hoppin said Garcia has yet to apply for the permit, but said code enforcement personnel have responded to complaints about his unlicensed booth, which is set up at the above a hardware cart.

“It’s not a food cart by any stretch of the imagination,” Hoppin said.

The incident and subsequent protests have had an impact on nearby businesses.

Facebook posts describing the event said the South Beach Pizza Co. owner was also harassing Garcia.

But owner Steve Mendoza said on Monday he never did and did not support the actions of the owner of the other restaurant.

“Beach Street Pizza and its employees do not tolerate this type of harassment of any kind, towards anyone,” he said. “None of my staff were involved, and we would not support such acts of hate. Me and my staff are working hard to keep our doors open during these difficult times. We hope the seller who was harassed is doing well and recouping her losses.

Still, the pizzeria’s Yelp page was bombarded with poor reviews and a one-star rating, and on Wednesday it was listed as permanently closed.

Meanwhile, an unidentified vandal was arrested on Tuesday spray painting the words “racist” on the front of the Falafel Hut. This restaurant’s Yelp page garnered so many negative reviews that Yelp issued an “unusual activity alert” and temporarily blocked new reviews.

Calls to Falafel Hut rang unanswered. The South Beach Pizza Co. number goes directly to a fax machine.

Garcia said she plans to continue operating her mobile sales business.

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

She also says she wishes good luck to the man who pushed her cart.

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