2011-05-06 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Do We Need To Become ‘The Next Gastronerd Paradise?’
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Maybe it’s just me, but does Rockaway need to become the next gastronerd paradise?

Do we need an A Train that is more crowded and beardy this summer?

Do we need $10 fish tacos, “après surf” options like pork rinds from Meat Hook, a fish sandwich from Roberta’s, arepas and empanadas from Caracas, Gloucester lobsters and clams from Sam Buffa sold in our boardwalk food shops?

Do we need to sit in front of the food shack on Beach 106 Street and sip a frozen drink while we watch dog walkers defile the Rockaway Rockies hockey rink?

Perhaps we do, but I am as confused as hell.

The rumor on the street – and in the Village Voice, New York magazine and the New York Times – is that the Department of Parks has decided to give its concession for several boardwalk stands and up to 20 food carts to Andrew Field and David Selig. For the past two years or so, they have run the Rockaway Taco Shack on Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 96 Street.

The two men have received lots of hype from the daily papers and the glossy magazines over that time for being “hip” and drawing the surfing crowd to Rockaway.

I tried their overpriced fish taco and gave up, but that’s just me.

I really don’t like “hip.”

I’m more like Lou Grant, the old newspaper man who tells new hire Mary Richards that she’s Perky and then blows up her bubble by saying, “I hate perky.”

I hate hip because I find it pretentious and overblown; that it makes more of nothing than anything else I have ever experienced in my 71 years on this planet.

Now comes the expansion of hip to the boardwalk.

From the Village Voice blog:

“Grub Street has heard that Rockaway Taco’s Andrew Field and David Selig have been talking to the Meat Hook, Vinegar Hill House, Roberta’s and Caracas Arepa Bar about contributing food to the boardwalk concession stands. There may also be 20 or so mobile vendors roaming the beach, all chosen by Rockaway Taco. Should it come to pass, expect the A Train to get a lot more crowded and beardy this summer.”

Actually, one of my younger colleagues had to explain to me that “beardy” really means hip.

From New York magazine:

“Rockaway Taco still hasn’t announced that it’ll be taking over the Rockaway Beach boardwalk concessions at Beach 86, 97, and 106 Streets, but we hear that a contract with the Parks Department is in the works – and that’s not the only thing we’ve discovered from sources close to the deal. Not only are Andrew Field and David Selig said to be planning a boardwalk satellite at Beach 97 Street that will specialize in seviche and Mexican sandwiches, they’re also talking to folks at Roberta’s, The Meat Hook, Caracas and Sam Buffa of Vinegar Hill house about contributing to the menus in the concession stands. And, Bowery Beef has been eyeing the Beach 106 Street stand in hopes of serving roast beef sandwiches as well as shellfish, including Gloucester lobsters.”

Here’s what confuses me.

The original request for proposal put out by the Parks Department made it clear that no food item could sell for more than $3.00 without the express permission of the department, and it was made clear that permission to go above that amount would not be given lightly.

After all, this is boardwalk and beach food, traditionally limited to hamburgers and hot dogs, pizza and cold drinks.

Are they saying that you can get a shell fish or lobster meal for $3.00? I don’t think so.

While I was surfing the web looking for information on the two men who are apparently getting a concession from the city to serve Rockaway, I decided to take a look at some of the restaurants they were inviting to add menu items. They didn’t sound cheap, and I found that they are not.

For example, a typical meal at Roberta’s Pizza runs $20 to $25 a person.

A Caracas arepas sells for $6.75 and up and a simple plate costs north of $11.00.

If the new concessionaire wants to use meat from The Meat Hook for their hamburgers, they are going to be costly. The cheapest ground beef goes for more than $6 a pound.

At the Vinegar Hill House, a small salad goes for $10 and a cast-iron chicken dinner goes for $17.

You have to wonder what the Parks Department has wrought.

Can you see a Rockaway family of four from one of the Mitchell Lama housing complexes hard on the boardwalk spending $50 or $60 for lunch? I can’t. The food is obviously not aimed at our residents, but at drawing hipsters from Manhattan to surf and eat.


While I was surfing the web, I ran into a posting about Selig, who owned a chain of Rice restaurants in Brooklyn.

Seems that he was sued in 2009 by six former employees at various Rice locations, alleging overtime pay violations and improper record-keeping.

The plaintiffs, whose job it was to prepare the food, wash dishes and clean said that they were not paid the legal minimum wage or appropriate overtime compensation. The federal suit describes a work environment where employees were paid with envelopes of cash and routinely worked 60 to 78 hour weeks.

The restaurant reportedly settled the 2009 suit for $90,000.

We have to wonder if the Parks Department knew about the lawsuit before granting the concession to Selig, or perhaps they were too hip to worry about such a small problem.

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