A hot dog cart is impounded by San Francisco Public Works with the sausages and onions still grilling. Photo by Annika Hom.


Friday almost appeared like a normal San Francisco Christmas: The famed Union Square Christmas Tree glittered in front of Saks Fifth Avenue, and a group of ice skaters wound round the rink. Ahead, posted in front of the Macy’s and it’s “Believe”-decorated Christmas tree on Geary Street, four bundled-up Latinx hot dog vendors grilled onions and sausage and blasted music in Spanish. Then, a phalanx of around eight cops and Department of Public Health workers descended on them.

At about 1:42 p.m. a group of at least six police officers and two Department of Public Health employees wrote up the hot dog vendors at Macy’s after they could not produce the proper license, and then impounded at least one man’s cart. 

For the past two weeks, the Health Department had been visiting vendors to check their licenses, and handing out brochures in English and Spanish about how to obtain one, a Health Department worker on-site said. He noted that even after these warnings the department has not received a single call, and that Mayor London Breed told the department to enforce against those without licenses. He added all other inquiries should be directed to the department’s spokesperson.

The Health Department statement was sent Friday evening, and is reproduced here in full:

"Beginning Friday, Dec. 17, the San Francisco Department of Public Health - in partnership with the Department of Public Works and the San Francisco Police Department - is conducting enforcement operations in Union Square to address the increase in the number of mobile food facilities and pushcarts in the area.   

   

Since December 1, we have provided vendors in the Union Square area with information on how to keep food safe, obtain permits for approved food sales, and how to comply with current regulations. After providing educational resources, vendors found to still be operating without a permit have been issued citations and some have their food and carts impounded.   

  

The owner of carts without a permit are issued a citation and the cart and/or food is impounded and held on a city-owned lot until a hearing can be held within 30 days. If the owner shows that their business operation meets the current regulatory requirements, they can be granted a permit to operate and retrieve their cart. There are no fines or penalties for the vendor. Any equipment not claimed is properly disposed of.​  

  

Consumers should be careful to only purchase food from a street vendor that has a permit decal sticker visible on the food cart or mobile vehicle.  This decal ensures that the vendor had been inspected by the SFDPH and understands the requirements for safe food handling. " 

As the group interviewed each vendor, one Health Department worker seemingly in charge wrote up reports and stuck white “impounded” stickers on the cart. He told them they could operate again once they obtain a license. It costs $168 to renew a permit for a mobile food facility, according to the Department of Public Works. A third person who appeared to be with the Health Department translated the information into Spanish. 

The brochure read, “Sidewalk vendors that sell perishable food must have a Health Permit before lawfully and safely beginning their vending.” It listed that unclean food pictures could result in bacteria and sickness like diarrhea; a picture on the back titled “Unapproved Sidewalk Vending” showed a close-ups of hotdogs on grills. To compare, the brochure featured pictures of approved refrigeration and cooking units.

On the inside, numbers for the Department of Public Works, the Department of Public Health, the fire department and the Office of Small Business were included. 

One by one, three vendors scurried off. When asked to comment, one told Mission Local in Spanish, “Sorry no. They told us to go, so we’re going.” 

“There’s one more,” an officer said, referring to the fourth vendor across Geary and located closer to Neiman Marcus. 

After interrogating the final vendor and realizing he had no permit, they handed over a flyer which he perused for a while. A Department of Public Works employee grabbed a clear trash bag and cleared a box of unused hot dog buns, throwing it in the back of a truck. Next, he wheeled up the man’s cart, with sausages still sizzling on the grill and an “impounded” sticker labeling the front now. Joining it were two coolers full of ice and soda that two other vendors used moments before. 

In minutes, the crowd of city workers departed, leaving the final vendor laughing incredulously with some bottled waters. He too, denied to speak. 

“Anyone want a water?” He called out to the Macy’s shoppers, chuckling weakly.

This story was updated Dec. 18, 10:30 a.m. to include a statement from the SFDPH.

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. Nice rant. Absolutely no evidence anywhere of Trump making those statements. Is this the defense to everything for people with no leg to stand on, “ It’s Trump” “ It’s the Republicans”. It’s tired. School Board recall and DA recall all a Republican conspiracy. I wish I only knew so many Republicans lived in SF. Who would have thunk? Ridiculous. It’s people trying to save this beautiful city from being Tijuana or Bangladesh. I’ve been to Paris dozens of times. They’re trying their best to preserve the beauty of that great city as well. I’m sure you would prefer hotdog carts cooked on shopping carts, tents on the streets and graffiti on the buildings to the unique architecture and multicultural restaurants that exist there today.

  2. Donald Trump was the one who purchased a high rise in San Francisco and pointed out that “illegals are making money on those food carts here in San Francisco. They should get rid of those street hotdog venders. They don’t pay taxes… The restaurants around them pay their taxes.” He also stated that “Republicans do a much better job in getting rid of homeless people. It’s a shame that San Francisco is a nasty place. ”

    America is about squeezing taxes from the hard working immigrants. Clearly. It doesn’t surprise me that London Breed acts like him. Big businesses in that area don’t want those food stands there. She’s just a puppet.

    All she had to do was to offer them to register, pay the fee, and check if they are up to par in sanitation right there and then. If they refuse to register, or if they are not up to standard, all she had to do was to make them leave. The cart didn’t need to be taken. Look, if there’s a code violation in a restaurant, you don’t take away their kitchen equipments. You shut it down until they pass.

    I can guarantee you that more than 50% of restaurants in San Francisco has defrosted chicken put back in the freezer. Out of shelflife items, 5 days old gravy are in the walk in refrigerator filled with black mold. Dead half rotten lobsters are in there too. Their kitchen hardly santized with months of accumulated grease all over. A seasoned dead rat behind the grill. Cockroaches having serious olympic games and hatcheries. I bet 50+% are in that condition dining on the food splatters on the walls.
    How do I know? I used to be in the kitchens of these restaurants and spent hundreds of hours cleaning them when I go in there. The chefs will say, “It’s ok. You don’t have to do that. Thank you though.”
    Cross contamination on the counters and chopping boards. They often don’t wash elbow down, nor change their apron every time they come back in. They don’t wear hair nets nor a cook’s hat. They also smoke marijuana and cigarettes in the kitchen and leave the boxes on the counters. If they see cancer tumors in their meat or seafood, they try to trim off the suspicious parts and still cook it. Commercial coffee makers don’t get the scrub but simply rinsed. The black rubber slip proof mats get water hosed but never scrubbed with sanitizing cleaner nor dipped in boiling temperature.

    I have seen it all in star rated place too. Compared to that, degreasing and sanitizing a hotdog cart will take an hour before ending the day.

    If I was Mayor, I would help them do a fundraiser like that tamales lady. I would take it further and turn them into 501c3 so that they are never taxed. I would encourage a good neighbor policy if a business allows a hotdog cart to be stationed in front, to give them a tax reduction incentive so that they will allow the cart owner to use their bathroom.

    The key to a great civilization is coexistence and diversity. A department store restaurant doesn’t compete with a hotdog. It’s a completely different niche. A diner ready to spend $200 for a bottle of wine will not eat a street hotdog.
    Those immigrants that are renting those carts don’t make that much money but they do so because they don’t have other options other than elementary custodian work because they haven’t mastered the language.

    Street cuisine abundant cities captivate lots of tourists. Taipei, Bangkok, Paris, Costa del Sol, Amalfi… Because there’s a lot of warm interactions between the vender and diner. We remember each other. The owners remember your name. I have been to Pakistan, Afghanistan and eaten days of food and unable to pay. They say, “no, you are a guest in my country. I can’t take your money. No, no, no.” The next time I go to the same place, I bring a gift from Japan in return.

    I’ve eaten street food, beach food, boat food, ski slope food in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, Manila, Thailand, Saigon, London, Paris, Milano, Amalfi, Capri, Sevilla, Toledo, Cordoba, Granada, Monte Carlo, Cairo, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Casa Blanca, Honolulu, Hilo… So much more more from age 4. I have never gotten sick. But I’ve gotten food poisoning from a restaurant 3 times. Denny’s, a sushi restaurant, and a steakhouse.

    This Mayor is not the People’s Mayor. She’s a mayor for the rich. She did this right before Christmas when she knows they are Bible readers. This mayor doesn’t understand what Christmas is. She could have done this in October and had most of them abide by code by now.

    What a cold blooded thing to do right before Christmas. It shows a lot about what she’s made out of. Certainly not made out of prayers nor compassion. Clearly.

    This is why tourists don’t come back like they do to Hawai’i. There’s no mana, no aloha.

  3. Let’s be honest those hot dogs are so full of preservatives and who knows what Pfizer vaccine injection for plumpness that they could never go bad even if they went to space with Captain Kirk and Jeff bazos, let’s all get a grip .. we need to comply by any means necessary

  4. It’s all fun and outrage until someone gets food poisoning.

    This is *exactly* what the City should be doing. And they should be doing it more often and in every neighborhood.

  5. So Mission Local wants enforcement against fent/meth dealers before unpermitted hotdog cats? Or just no enforcement for anything?

      1. Come on, Watcher, we can end fent and meth dealing in the TL by putting the city’s vaunted administrative vultures on the case. They’ll be confiscating unpermitted backpacks full of bindles in no time.

  6. I’m all for someone making a living by hard work but Health an City Codes come first.
    I’ve seen these vendors along Mkt @ 4th and it always looks a bit sketchy. Now if the Health Dept could handle cleaning up the human waste that’s all about us it would be a good start.
    One can HOPE

  7. Geez I have eaten food from food carts all over the world and have never gotten sick! It’s Xmas and they are trying to make ends meet. Bring the paperwork to them and help them with the process. How insensitive can you be? The number of police officers called was a ridiculous number. Why not concentrate on real crimes?

    1. You’ve read the article? Let me help: “For the past two weeks, the Health Department had been visiting vendors to check their licenses, and handing out brochures in English and Spanish about how to obtain one, a Health Department worker on-site said. He noted that even after these warnings the department has not received a single call”

  8. Excuse me for not wanting the beautiful city I grew up in to become Tijuana. There are ridiculous laws that allow these tax cheats to operate legally. Sell a few more illegal alcoholic drinks and get a permit. People paying rent, taxes and city fees can’t get away with this garbage. You may want to live in the third world ( you’re quickly getting your way) but not everyone does. And every action taken by authorities is a civil rights emergency . Grow up

  9. These vendors were not shut down because of not having a DPW sidewalk permit. They were shut down because they didn’t have a health permit. They were selling perishable meat that didn’t have refrigeration, no handwash facilities, no overhead protection against bird contamination, and no proof of legal commissary access for legal food storage and required storage and cleaning of their carts. Pretty simple equation. No one has the right to sell dangerous, uninspected food to unsuspecting patrons. Everyone assumes food carts allowed to operate on San Francisco streets are sanctioned and approved by City authorities. Thank you SF Health for enforcing our health and safety codes!

    1. Health codes need to be enforced, but prioritizing hot dog vendors over the defecating zombie mobs a few blocks away makes me take off my glasses and rub my forehead.

      1. Why do you expect restaurant inspectors to be doing that job, though? SF City government can (theoretically) do more than one thing at a time. Why are they cleaning the streets in front of your home while there are car break ins going on at Twin Peaks??

        1. Paul, there are levels to what is ailing the city and frustrating the non meth addicted part of the population. No one who lives in SF thinks the non-licensed hot dog vendors are what is lowering the quality of our lives. Getting rid of them is a luxury item.

    2. Norm said it as well (or better) than I could have. We are so bad at enforcing ANYTHING in SF, and it’s nice to see a little of it. Health codes exist because they are important, and they need to be enforced. Now if only we’d enforce traffic laws.

  10. This is only a problem because the fine rich folks at Neiman Marcus don’t want to see peasants grilling dogs for $5 across the street.

    1. Thank you!!!! I LOATHE the term latinx especially when its imposed on us by some performative “woke” journalist. Unless I TELL YOU that I want to be addressed as Latinx just call me Latino. NO ONE WILL BE OFFENDED.

      1. I’m as progressive as they come. And Latinx is a joke. Unreal that democrats want to push this on my ppl. Latino, end of discussion.

  11. The Mayor should crack down on the following: 1- people going to the bathroom on the streets; 2- people using drugs on the streets; 3- people selling stolen goods on the streets; 4- people selling drugs on the street.

    NOT on ambulant workers earning a living. Why not deploy the City Workers w/ the paper work to register these vendors in the spot, instead of taking away their way to make a living?

    1. I second Monica. Why not just have the city offer the chance for the vendors apply for the permit on the spot?

    2. It’s not just about applying for the permit – they actually have to have safe food storage equipment and sanitary food handling capabilities, which those bacon-wrapped hotdog carts probably can’t comply with.

  12. Last week an overcooked hotdog sold me three Fentanyl pills on Taylor Street so I guess the Mayor’s crackdown is really working?