Sammy Kassem, 21, was named the 2012 “Most Heroic Vendor” in the upcoming Vendy Awards, an annual picking of the city’s top street cooks.
The Kensington native with Palestinian roots has refused to leave the coveted corner of 86th Street and 5th Avenue as longtime nearby businesses gripe the cart needs to go because Kassem is stealing away their customers with his cheap eats.
“It’s amazing. The situation is being recognized,” said Kassem, the whose award was announced Tuesday by the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center which runs the contest.
“There are people all over the city who have similar problems. I tell other vendors, if you let them take your spot you will never get it back,” Kassem said.
The group’s lawyers teamed up with Kassem this spring at the height of his beef with Lone Star Bar and Grill owner Tony Gentile who launched the Save Our Streets campaign with other Bay Ridge shops.
Gentile complained to police and politicians that Kassem’s cart is dirty and was illegally parked too close to the curb. But city officials haven’t closed down the cart, which is half a block away from Lone Star, because no major violations were found.
“It’s a sad day in Brooklyn, New York, and in America that we give an award to someone who isn’t operating legally,” said Gentile about Kassem’s Vendy award.
Kassem, like other street vendors, doesn’t have to pay rent for his sidewalk space angering the shop owners even more.
Officials will name the other Vendy picks, including “Rookie of the Year” and the top honor of “Vendy Cup,” during the Sept. 15th ceremony on Governor’s Island.
Kassem is New York’s second Vendy hero.
Last year, Patty’s Tacos truck in Manhattan got the award after suing the city, with the aid of Street Vendor Project’s lawyers. Cops said they couldn’t sell food next to parking meters.
Kassem’s refusal to move has transformed him from an unknown Halal street cook to political activist, triggering a flood of requests to the Street Vendor Project asking to make him a hero.
“People talked about how great his food is, but they also talked about the conflict between him and the brick-and-mortar businesses,” said Street Vendor Project staff attorney Matt Shapiro.