Hot dog vendors cooking up controversy in San Francisco

Hot dog vendors are cooking up controversy in San Francisco.

Merchants at Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf say the unlicensed food carts are stealing their business and they're alleging that those carts are also a health hazard.

They say the unlicensed vendors are operating with propane tanks and unrefrigerated meat.

The restaurants say its tough enough staying afloat during the coronavirus, without a double standard that allows unlicensed carts to undercut their business.

On a beautiful Wednesday afternoon, a hot dog vendor is seen doing brisk business at Fisherman's Wharf.

"The hot dog was amazing. I never had it grilled like that," said Isaac Funez, a visitor from North Carolina.

But the Fisherman's Wharf Community Benefit District, which oversees public safety and its properties, says these street vendors are operating illegally without permits.

They're raising safety concerns, including exposed propane tanks and health concerns.

The district shared a photo of hot dogs in a box left out unrefrigerated. 

"There's a lot of seagulls flying around. If one of them happens to be standing above a pole where the food station is and bird guano happens to fall down..." says Mike Castro of the Fisherman's Wharf Community Benefit District, alluding to a health hazard. 

The district also shared with KTVU video taken around July 4th, which shows many vendors at Fisherman's Wharf.

Merchants say holidays and weekends can bring up to a dozen unlicensed food vendors to the Wharf, undercutting merchants such as concession-stand owner Brian Hayes.

"I'd say they take about 15% of our business," says Hayes and that he is already struggling with business down by 50% because of the pandemic.

He says he's been operating here for 40 years.

"We run our business fair, treat our employees fair, so I see something here that's very unfair," says Hayes. 

The Fisherman's Wharf Community Benefit District says it's a double standard and has reached out to city agencies including the Department of Public Health, but that there has been no enforcement.

In a written statement, a department spokeswoman said, "SFDPH takes an education-first approach to its food safety inspections."

"What's going on at the Wharf is totally unacceptable," says Supervisor Aaron Peskin who represents the area.

He says he's working with the Department of Public Health to start enforcement as early as this week. 

Peskin says it appears the organizations operating these food carts  are also exploiting workers. 

"These individuals are basically indentured servants. They are worsening the situation in the pandemic," says Peskin.  

"We have to follow all the tax rules and so forth, whereas these other people: zero rules," says Hayes. 

Supervisor Peskin says enforcement is not about targeting immigrant workers who are trying to make a living. He adds that the crackdown will include issuing citations.