NEW YORK – A neighborhood staple in Astoria, Franky’s Souvlaki, a food truck owned and operated by Franky Englezos and his family, and Joanna Despas of Mama Jo’s Breakfast Cart- a fixture in Manhattan, were both finalists at the 14th Annual Vendy Awards, the “Oscars” of street food, on September 22, on Governors Island. Despas, who has been serving breakfast at the corner of Park Avenue and 47th Street for 35 years, came away a winner at the event in the Vendys’ newest category, Best Breakfast.
For Englezos, the food business is a family affair. His father started out selling hot dogs from a cart in 1970, but began selling souvlakia in 1979 and the business has been booming ever since at the same corner of Steinway Street and 31st Avenue. Englezos spoke with The National Herald at the event, noting that he was happy to be a finalist at this year’s Vendys.
His parents immigrated from Nafpakto and settled in Queens, he told TNH, noting that he was “born into the business” and is “continuing his father’s legacy.”
“We love what we do,” Englezos said.
“We are participating for the first time at the Vendy Awards. Over the years, they were asking us to participate but we had a lot of work and we skipped it. But our customers voted for us and brought us to the final and today we compete for the first prize,” Englezos told TNH.
“It means a lot to me that my customers nominated me for the Vendy Awards,” he said.
In 2015, the family upgraded their cart to a food truck and expanded their service to Long Island City. Franky’s Souvlaki serves souvlaki on the stick and on pita, gyros, “Franky Fries,” and other traditional Greek favorites flavored with seasonings imported from Greece.
Englezos told TNH, based on his years of experience, that “on the good food carts, the food is fresher and clean than at many restaurants.”
Twenty-five of New York City’s best street and market vendors, nominated by the public, competed across five different categories – best dessert, best rookie, best market, best breakfast (new for 2018) and the ultimate prize – The Vendy Cup. Tickets included unlimited food and drink and each ticket is a tax deductible donation to the Street Vendor Project of the Urban Justice Center a 501(c)(3) charity.
Sean Basinski, one of the project’s directors told TNH, “The awards have two goals, on the one hand, to pay respect to all those who work so hard on the streets, every day, and the other to raise money for our organization (Street Vendor Project), which gives voice to all these people. Beyond the difficulty of the working conditions, the city itself with its legislation makes our work even more difficult.”
“People who believe street food is not good should expand their horizons,” he added.
At about 4:30 pm Mr. Basinski and his colleagues called all the competitors to the stage for each category and announced the winners. Best Dessert went to Baonanas. Best Market Vendor went to D’Abruzzo.
Besides breakfast sandwiches and pastries, Greek-born Despas, known as “Mama Jo,” makes Greek favorites, like spanakopita, kolokithopita, and olive bread, from scratch with the recipes she learned to make with her grandmother in Greece. On Saturday, she won the Vendy Award for Best Breakfast. “We worked so hard for this. All the contestants were amazing,” Despas said, as she received her prize.
Of Afghan origin, Nansense won the prize for Best Rookie. The People’s
Choice Award went to Burmese Bites, while the judges gave the top overall prize to Royal Grill Halal Food.
Attendees at the Vendy Awards on Governors Island in New York City. Photo by TNH/Costas Bej
Franky Englezos of Franky’s Souvlaki spoke with the media at the Vendy Awards. Photo by TNH/Costas Bej