Philly’s Vendy Awards Nominations Announced

The Vendys are coming! The Vendys are coming!

Yes, folks, the Vendy Awards–a beloved New York City tradition since 2005, honoring the very best purveyors of truck, cart and streetcorner cuisine–have now been loosed on our fair city. On Saturday, July 9, from 3pm-7pm at the Piazza at Schmidts, all the greatest street-food operators in town will be gathering to serve up their best tacos/curry/BBQ/falafel in an attempt to impress a panel of celebrity judges and be named among the best of Philly’s sidewalk chefs. Of course, they’ll also be serving grub for the masses (and in the process collecting money for The Food Trust, a non-profit that tries to give everyone access to good, healthy food) which is why you’ll want to be there. I mean, where else are you going to be able to find Guapos Tacos, Sweet Box, King of Falafel and Cucina Zapata all together in one place at one time?

Up until June 10, the folks behind the Vendys have been taking public nominations in order to determine Philly’s street-food finalists. And just today, they released their list of the 8 most beloved vendors working the streets of our fair metropolis. These 8 will be gathering at the appointed place, on the appointed hour, to do noble battle before their adoring fans. And when all is said and done, one of them will be going home with the coveted Vendy Cup and joining the ranks of such streetcorner luminaries as Calexio Carne Asada, NY Dosa, Sammy’s Halal and King of Falafel (New York version).

So do you want to know who’ll be battling it out this year in Philly?

Here are this year’s finalists and their bios, straight from Vendy World Headquarters.

Name of business: Cucina Zapata

Chef/Owner(s): Robert and Ruk Zapata

How long have you been in business: Two and a half months

Where are you from: Rob, South Jersey & Ruk- Khon Kaen, Thailand

What kind of food do you serve?: An amalgamation of Thai and Mexican.

Specialties: Thai Sweet Potato Chicken Curry, Thai Short-Rib Taco, Chicken Satay Taco

Tell us something about you or your business that you want the world to know: We hope to one day import organic chilies from our small farm in Thailand and use them in our sauces and food.  We are always looking for different ways to serve healthy, quality food to our customers.

Why do you deserve to win the Vendy Award?: Because we do what we loves and we loves what we do.

Name of business: Gigi and Big R Caribbean/American Soul Food

Chef/Owner(s): Elukene Rene & Thomas Bacon

Years in business: 10 Years

Where are you from: Rene, Haiti & Thomas, Philly

What kind of food do you serve?: Caribbean/American Soul Food

Specialties: BBQ Jerk From The Smoking Grill and Our Fried Whiting Fish With Rene’s Special Seasonings

Tell us something about you or your business that you want the world to know: We serve our soul food to please the soul but also want our customers to have a spiritual filling as well. That’s why our platters run over with food. We aim to please.

Why do you deserve to win the Vendy Award?: In our working class society we have a busy schedule with the family first, then the job, then back to the family. These vital hours of interaction with family/job doesn’t leave us with a lot of wholesome food prep time. This is why we serve our customers nutritious and tasty food. We love to hear our customers say “I got a large fish platter and had enough to share with my children and reheat for later.” We fill in the gap for time, health and flavor. Home away from home. We aim to please.

Name of business: Guapos Tacos

Chef/Owner(s): Jose Garces & Jun Aizak

Years in business: Established in 2010

Where are you (owners/chefs) from: Jose Garces, Chicago & Jun Aizak, Japan

What kind of food do you serve?:  Tacos

Specialties:  Mexican Sodas, House made guacamole, esquites (sweet corn, queso fresco, chipotle, and lime)

Tell us something about you or your business that you want the world to know:  The truck is owned by an Iron Chef.

Why do you deserve to win the Vendy Award?: I will send you this answer shortly.

Name of business:  King of Falafel

Chef/Owner(s):  Nabil & Hined Akkeh

Years in business:  1989, 22 years

Where are you from:  Syria

What kind of food do you serve?: Middle Eastern Food

Specialties:  Falafel.

Tell us something about you or your business that you want the world to know:  We were both electrical engineers back in Syria.

Why do you deserve to win the Vendy Award?: We helped introduce Philadelphia to Middle Eastern food. When we started we were one of the very few serving this kind of food, now it is everywhere—on the streets and in restaurants—but our customers keep coming back to us. They come back because we serve healthy and affordable food made from good ingredients. We soak and grind our chickpeas to make our falafel and hummus—we don’t use mixes or pre-made food, everything is made by us from high quality, fresh ingredients—that is our tradition and you can taste the difference.

Name of business:  La Copine

Chef/Owner(s): Nikki Hill (chef/owner) and Claire Wadsworth (owner)

Years in business:  Four months

Where are you from:  Nikki grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Claire grew up in Houston, Texas and Summit, New Jersey.

What kind of food do you serve?: Brunch.  Home-made style favorites.

Specialties:  Cooking with locally sourced naturally raised food, keeping it simple and tasteful.

Tell us something about you or your business that you want the world to know:  We are grateful for Garden Variety. They have allowed us a jumping off point for our business.  This is only the beginning for La Copine.

Why do you deserve to win the Vendy Award?: For most people brunch is a weekend luxury, and La Copine makes it affordable while using farm-fresh, well sourced food. La Copine deserves to win because we have a unique concept and genuinely we care about the quality and experience for the people in our community.

Name of business: Magic Carpet Foods

Chef/Owner(s): Dean Varvoutis, president / Deborah Carson, executive chef

Years in business:  Since 1984, 27 years +

Where are you from: Born and raised in Philadelphia area

What kind of food do you serve?: Whole world vegetarian cuisine

Specialties: Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influence, solid vegetarian staples

Tell us something about you or your business that you want the world to know:  We provide the gateway to vegetarian eating for the common person. People should know that you don’t need to be vegetarian to enjoy vegetarian food. That’s our claim to fame.

Why do you deserve to win the Vendy Award?: It is nice to be recognized for something you worked hard at for so long.

Name of business:  Sugar Philly

Chef/Owner(s): John Suh, Franklin Shen, Dan Tang (chef)

Years in business:  1.5 years

Where are you from: Philadelphia

What kind of food do you serve?: Desserts (“Gourmet”)

Specialties: French Macarons

Tell us something about you or your business that you want the world to know: Our food truck Sheila was once a mail postal truck outside the World Trade Center

Why do you deserve to win the Vendy Award?: French Macarons > Cupcakes……

Name of business: Sweet Box

Chef/Owner(s): Pastry chef and owner, Gretchen Fantini

Years in business:  Three months

Where are you from: Philadelphia

What kind of food do you serve?: Premium ingredient cupcakes…and more.

Specialties: Every single cupcake is special because they truly are Made with Love, but the favorite is my Southern Red Velvet.  It is a cocoa buttermilk cake made with a Madagascar bourbon vanilla cream cheese frosting.

Tell us something about you or your business that you want the world to know: Before starting my sweets-to-the-streets business, my previous profession was in the legal field.  Don’t wait any longer,  follow your heart and make it a reality.

Why do you deserve to win the Vendy Award?: I might not be able to win us the Super Bowl but I can make Philadelphians happy by creating modern desserts that not only look good but taste just as good.   I am committed to bring that high standard that they look for in every single dessert that I make.

So that’s the slate, Philly. And you know the time and the place. Early bird tickets are already sold out, and GA are going fast at $55 a pop, covering entry, drinks and all the street food you can cram in ya. You know what that means?

It means you should stop reading and go score your tickets right now. Hopefully I’ll see you there.

Vendy Awards [official website]

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  • rory


    seriously though, guapos tacos over down home or don memo’s or taco loco? hype over substance, yo. give me 3 al pastor from don memo’s hot and day.

    i personally hate the “most nominations” means of picking. part of what seems awesome about the vendys was the chance to try new stuff that i don’t get anywhere near (Taco Loco @ 4th and washington). I guess now we know where the hipster foodies live/eat: west philly. oh well–i’m still gonna enjoy it but better to have a roving group of nomination judges sample some fare and make a decision.

  • Dustin

    I agree. Picking it by “nost nominations” doesn’t make any sense. Its like the NBA All-Stars getting picked by fan votes.

  • Willie

    It’s ridiculous that King of Falafel is included but not Christos – he has the best street food of ANY kind in Philly.

  • John H

    LOVE King of Falafel. Willie remains a douche.

  • Buckethead

    I don’t know if Christos could be counted on to show up at the awards, though.

  • Michael G

    Christos has great food but he’s batshit crazy which isn’t a bad thing IMO.

  • Willie

    I think it would be worth the price of admission just to hear what he’d have to say about the competition :)

  • rory

    also, when they said “nominate your favorite,” it wasn’t clear that meant vote for your favorite. My friends and I purposefully picked different carts to nominate to make sure they all had a shot. Who knows how many votes for Don Memo’s (or down home, or whatever) would have been cast had that been clear.

    sometimes, the mob isn’t right. oh, and I agree–christos would have been an awesome addition. lol.

  • Margarita

    Cucina Zapata by far will add zest to your palate!! Very delicious and tasty and good quantity and quality for the price!! Good Luck!! You are the best truck on Drexel campus!!