Philadelphia Vendy Awards finalists

The Vendy Awards will be held on July 9th (3:00pm to 7:00pm) at Piazza at Schmidts and will benefit The Food Trust, a nonprofit that strives to make healthy food available to all.  Last year, three Philadelphia vendors came to New York to participate in the 2010 Vendys where it was announced that the event would debut in Philly in 2011.  The Vendy Awards were started in New York City to benefit the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center<http://streetvendor.org/>, a membership-based project with more than 1200 active vendor members who are working together to advocate for and raise awareness of the many issues street vendors face around the nation.

The event emcee will be Johnny Goodtimes “One of Philadelphia’s Foremost Entertainers.” Philly Mayor Michael A. Nutter and the other judges Face tough choices at the July 9th event Loom in addition to ticket holders. The Vendy Awards are comprised of two awards: the Vendy Cup, as awarded by the judges, and the People’s Choice Award.

The Philadelphia Vendy Awards are proud to announce that the finalists for the inaugural event are:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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……

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.

“Choosing between these fantastic vendors is like choosing between Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, they are all great,” said Sean Basinski, Director of the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center. “We have a diverse group of Vendors competing – just like the city they cook for and I know Philly residents will have an opinion about who is best.  Philadelphia has a taste all its own, and we’re excited to for people to come down to see who is Philadelphia’s best street chef.

Judges at the 2011 Philadelphia Vendy Awards are:

Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter

Jennifer Carroll, Chef de Cuisine, 10 Arts Bistro & Lounge:  Jennifer Carroll is the chef de cuisine of 10 Arts Bistro & Lounge by Eric Ripert in Philadelphia, Pa. Carroll is also well-known for starring on Bravo’s award-winning television show Top Chef Las Vegas and Top Chef All Stars.  Born and raised in Philadelphia, Carroll has contributed her talents to numerous restaurants, including Eric Ripert’s prestigious Le Bernardin. When 10 Arts opened, Carroll was personally selected by Ripert to lead the kitchen. Carroll creates menus of modern American cuisine with an emphasis on local ingredients.

Brian McManus, food and music editor at Philadelphia Weekly: Brian McManus is the food and music editor at Philadelphia Weekly, and the author of Philadelphia’s Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the City of Brotherly Love. He¹s written for Houston Press, San Francisco Weekly, Chicago Reader, Cleveland Scene, and Chunklet, Harp and Spin magazines. McManus began his writing career nearly a decade ago while slaving away as a chef in high-end professional kitchens of his native Houston, Texas. He moved to Philly in 2005, and can be found most days at Oscar’s Tavern.

Drew Lazor, Food and Web Editor at the Philadelphia City Paper: Drew Lazor runs the Meal Ticket blog at the Philadelphia City Paper along with being a food columnist for the paper. Founded in October 2008, Meal Ticket is a City Paper blog about food and drink in Philadelphia. Among the items they blog are recipes, interviews, restaurant news, commentary and much more.

Chef Michael Solomonov, executive chef at Zahav:  Chef Michael Solomonov is the executive chef at Zahav Philadelphia’s renowned modern Israeli restaurant.  Known for his extraordinary skill at transforming simple foods into artful culinary masterpieces, he is widely regarded as one of the city’s top young chefs and entrepreneurs.  In addition to his duties at Zahav, of which is he co-owner, Chef Solomonov is a partner in, a popular Mexican restaurant in Society Hill, and Percy Street Barbecue, a Texas-style barbecue restaurant and bar on South Street that has quickly become known as the best place in Philadelphia for smoked meats.

Lindsay Lidge: Lindsay Lidge, wife of Phillies pitcher Brad Lidge, is an advocate for healthy eating. In 2010, Lindsay and Brad partnered with The Food Trust, a Philadelphia nonprofit working to increase access to affordable, nutritious food, to launch “Team Up for Healthy Food and Healthy Families” to spread the word about healthy eating to all Philadelphia families.

Jamie Shanker: Jamie Shanker grew up in Queens, NY where her Jewish parents threw her dim sum birthday parties while the other kids had theirs at Burger King.  Now she is a proud Philly resident. In between meals, she is a full time law student focusing on the nonprofit sector, having picked her law school based in part on the city’s exciting array of ethnic eats.  Jamie runs the Philadelphia edition of Midtown Lunch, a website dedicated to finding Philly’s most delicious, under $10 lunches.Since the site’s launch in January 2010, she has spent her time conquering the Philly Prizzasteak (pizza wrapped, pretzel stuffed cheesesteak), Indonesian steam tables, all you can eat pickle bars, hidden Chinatown basement restaurants, as well as lunching at most of Reading Terminal’s glorious food stalls and esteemed food trucks around town.

One of New York’s most beloved and widely anticipated food events, the Vendys are the premier street food showcase and last year attracted more than 1500 savvy street foodie attendees.  This year’s New York Vendys will take place on Governor’s Island on September 24th.

A membership-based organization of more than 1200 vendors, the Street Vendor Project serves as a voice for the more than 10,000 vendors who contribute to New York City’s rich and vibrant street life. The organization is now helping spearhead a national movement through SVANA, the Street Vendors’ Association of North America.

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