By Benjamin Rubin
Published: May 16th, 2018
There’s a a new lunch spot that opened up outside Brooklyn College. Mazar, a sleek new halal cart, is now stationed near the Bedford Avenue campus entrance. It is owned and run by U-Jay, a former Brooklyn College student, who puts a fresh twist on halal street meats. But sitting only a few feet away is Buona Journata, a halal truck that has been serving students and staff for over ten years.
“I love competition, if you give the space,” Mohamed Ali, the owner of Buona Journata said. He says that if you set up in a new place you should “respect the destination, and leave space for the people,” that are already there. When he bought the business over ten years ago it was at that exact spot on the block. The previous owner had it set up near the Bedford campus entrance about two years before he sold it to Ali. But now Mazar is even closer to the entrance than his. Mohamed says that he factored the location into the price and has worked hard to build up a loyal local customer base. College staff, faculty, and students, would all come to eat his food over and over.
Pointing to a man standing on the short line at Mazar’s, Ali says that he used to be his regular, and now has spotted him twice waiting at U-Jay’s.
U-Jay is proud of his repeat customers. He says that although he just started a few weeks ago, his food is flavorful enough that he is seeing the same faces many times a week. Pointing to a bike parked about 20 feet away, U-Jay says, “I was shocked myself,” when the line at lunch stretched that far. Most of the faces on the line were repeats.
U-Jay credits his original recipes, fresh preparation, and amount of meat he puts in his dishes, for the quick loyalty he is building. He says that he calculated his profit margin at the end of the week and noticed that his liberal meat portions were costing him at least $150 a week more than it should have. He says that many other carts feel pressured by their business partners to maximize every cent.
Food vendors in New York City need to park their carts at authorized garages. The commissaries, as they’re known, provide space at night and also sell supplies and prepared food. Officially vendors are not under any obligation to buy supplies from the commissaries, but like many things in this industry, what is legally official is not what matters. There is a whole unofficial code of honor that has developed among the generation of vendors that have set up in previous decades. The younger generation often bridles against these standards.
U-Jay, who is 25 years old, says that he pushes back against his commissary’s owner when he gets asked to purchase prepared food from him. Instead, he makes most of his own food by himself. He marinates the lamb, prepares the sauces (red, white, green, and BBQ), and so on. Sometimes, he says, he makes an exception and uses commercially prepared items, but only if he is running low unexpectedly.
Some students are glad that there is now a new halal option on the block. Eldan Fachima, a mechanical engineering freshman says, that before Mazar opened he wouldn’t have enough time at lunch to wait for Buona Journata. “It was usually too busy, so I would keep on walking.” He said that now that there were two halal carts on the block the lines are sometimes shorter.
Ali points to the other vendors on the block and says that none of them sell halal food, so they are able to stay off each others toes. In fact, they help each other out from time to time. Running to get fresh ice for each other, and so on.
Now the peace on the block is shattered. Pointing to U-Jay, Ali says, “He thinks he’s making halal money, but it is not right money.” He says that from a religious perspective, it is not halal for a competitor to open this close by, “he hurts me,” Ali explains. If U-Jay were to move to the other entrance at Campus Road, Ali says, he would wish him “good luck.”
Ali says that he is now concerned about his future. Ever since Mazar has come to the block he says his profit margin has taken a real hit. If things keep getting worse, he says, he doesn’t know what he will do to support his family. Pointing to his worker inside the truck, he said that he might have to let his assistant go.
U-Jay says that he just wants to provide the students a competitive option. According to him, Ali is a good guy and that he doesn’t wish him any harm. He says that he is sure he will be fine because he has a large customer base and sells breakfast times too. But if he were to see that things are getting worse, he would move to the other side voluntarily.