Serious Eats turned me on to a fascinating, if brief, article in the Daily News that calculates the dollars and cents of running a food-and-drink pushcart in NYC.

According to “Pushcarts: Their Sidewalk Meal Tickets,” manning the carts is generally a pretty crappy job staffed by immigrants willing to work long, hard days for around $100 a shift. If said cart jockey can save up the money to buy his or her own rig, it’s (relatively) Easy Street. But getting the cash together is no cakewalk. As the Daily News uncovers, cart owner Mohamad Ali had to scrape up $21,000 just to get started:

The city only charges $200 for a permit, but with the number that are issued capped at 3,000, there’s a thriving secondary market for the documents. Ali paid $6,000 for his permit.

When it came to the cart, Ali went for the best. At $15,000, the custom-made cart has a grill cooktop, and containers for rice, condiments and hot dogs. It also has a faucet with hot and cold water …

Between broken axles, engine blow-outs and various dents and dings, Ali estimates that he pays $3,000 a year to maintain the cart. He pays another $400 a month for his space in a garage, where he stores the cart overnight, takes delivery of supplies and does his morning prep work.

Pretty steep, eh? But Ali says he can make hundreds a day, enough to pay for a one-bedroom apartment in Jersey City for his family of five. Um. Yeah. Maybe I’m going to slide an extra dollar into the tip jar next time I get a street dog.

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