Petition to help meet museum’s “Hot Dog King” gains 40K+ supporters

Over 40,000 people have signed a petition calling on New York City to help “Hot Dog King” Dan Rossi, a local celebrity whose cart has been stationed outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art for 15 years. It’s one of the most coveted sales spots in New York, but Rossi says poor city oversight has created too much competition along the Fifth Avenue stretch, ultimately forcing him to sleep on the spot or lose his spot.

In an interview with HyperallergenicRossi said he has spent his nights in his wagon or nearby van for 11 years.

“In the beginning, when we first started this, we wanted to do the normal things,” Rossi said. “At the end of the day, you would take your cart back to the commissary, clean it for the next day.” Then one day Rossi arrived to find someone in his place. He claims that over the past decade, the Department of Health (DOH) – which regulates vendors – has not properly enforced its rules.

The allegations stem from the fact that disabled veterans like himself have special sales privileges in certain areas of the city, including on Fifth Avenue. (The New York ordinance was originally enacted to help Civil War veterans earn money through street vending and has been both maintained and amended since). Political story detailing the problem of vending companies illegally paying disabled veterans for their permits to sell in coveted areas like outside the Met.

This is what a spokesperson for the DOH says Hyperallergenic that a person with a disabled veteran’s license must be present at the cart using that license. But Rossi believes this rule is not being properly enforced, leading to an overcrowded stretch outside the Met where vendors who are not disabled veterans occupy the seats.

“If my cart isn’t there or I’m not there physically, they would take the place,” Rossi said. “That would be the end of me.”

“Either I go or I sleep there at night,” Rossi continued. “I have to put a roof over my head; I have to sleep there at night.” Rossi’s wife and daughters live in Mamaroneck, Westchester County.

The DOH spokesperson said the city does not “reserve” sales points. “When the next day of vending machines starts, if someone else sets up at the same location, they are free to sell there if they have the necessary permits,” the representative said. “We have no interest in taking away anyone’s place. But people cannot leave their carts unattended either.”

Rossi says he has been sleeping in his wagon or nearby van for 11 years.

The son of Italian immigrants, Rossi grew up in the Bronx, served as a Marine in Vietnam, and then went on to lease a fleet of New York City streetcars in the late 1980s and 1990s. He waged a battle against Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani as the former lobbied to limit Midtown vendors, leaving Rossi with a single cart. In 2007, the “Hot Dog King” moved his small operation to the Met.

Rossi has been famous for a while, but he became a social media phenomenon when he was featured by internet personality New York Nico. Since then, he has amassed 12,000 Instagram followers (his daughter Elizabeth runs his accounts). Rossi has been the subject of numerous news profiles over the past decade and a half, and last year was featured in the Netflix series Street Food USA. He also wrote a book last year titled New York Hot Dog King: From Rags to Riches to Less Than Rags, in which he talks about his battle with Trump, Giuliani and the city. He’s been making waves for years, and former Mayor Bloomberg even directly addressed his sales issue in 2012, but nothing seemed to change. Rossi said his current issues with the city are “personal” and that he sees himself as an advocate for disabled veterans throughout New York City.

Across the city, other street vendors are also under pressure. In Flushing, Queens, City Councilwoman Sandra Ung said illegal vendors there were causing a public safety problem and launched a petition to remove unlicensed vendors. However, obtaining a legal sales permit in New York City is nearly impossible: There are only 853, and the 12,000-person waiting list closed ten years ago.

Rossi says the alleged problems with vending machine enforcement also pose a financial problem for him because they create too much competition. He said he was never able to return to his pre-COVID earnings.

When The Met closed its doors at the height of the pandemic, Rossi’s business “zeroed out.”

“We managed to get through it,” he said. “But it was tough.”

Now the Mets “Hot Dog King” has over 42,000 people supporting him. Rossi’s daughters created the petition for their father. “I think it’s fantastic. Will it help me?” Rossi asked. “It depends on how deep the city has gotten itself into trouble.”

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