Union Square coffee cart vendor fined $200 for wearing hat

UNION SQUARE, Manhattan (WABC) -- It was a hat trick that was going to cost a veteran coffee cart vendor a day's profits.

The problem started when a city inspector flagged the Union Square vendor for wearing a hat -- the wrong hat, the inspector said. Or was it?

"I was shocked," John Frangioudakis said. "Shocked."

And it takes a lot to rattle Frangioudakis, who has been pouring coffee alongside his longtime grill man Jorge Perez at the corner of 14th and Irving Place.

"For the past 20 years," he said.

The vendor is properly licensed with no outstanding health violations, until last week, that is.

"When (the New York City health inspector) was about to leave, he says, 'I'm going to give your partner a ticket for the hat'" Frangioudakis said.

For wearing the hat, Perez was fined $200, which Frangioudakis said represented a good days's profit for the cart. The ticket also stated that Perez had "long blonde hair."

The hat was declared "ineffective" by the inspector, who said it was "made of paper and capable of falling off."

Frangioudakis said Perez has been wearing that type of hat for the last seven to eight years. And he's not the only one. The type has been named by some as "fast food hats," and they have been used for generations.

Eyewitness News also found a video from the health department describing proper food safety techniques, and the actor in the demonstration is wearing the exact same hat, displayed as the proper hair restraint.

"I'm speechless," Frangioudakis said when he saw the video. "I don't know what to say."

So we asked the New York City Department of Health to take a second look, and one day later, they made amends.

"They're apologizing, saying they are very sorry about the whole situation," Frangioudakis said.

The violation was officially dismissed, and officials said the inspector who gave the ticket will be re-trained to ensure proper citation of the city health code.

A Department of Health source also told us it is looking into the inspector's old cases to see if he incorrectly cited other vendors.

Health department officials say if you're a food vendor or restaurant with a comment about an inspection, good or bad, email their ombudsman at infobfscs@health.nyc.gov, or call (646) 632-6253.
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