12 August 2010

Save The Best Wurst


In 2008, Shawn Cirkiel opened the Parkside at 301 East 6th Street in the building purchased by his parents, Pamela and Martin Cirkiel. In 2010, Parkside applied for a permit to build a balcony, when there was already an existing permit for The Best Wurst to operate on that portion of the sidewalk, which is city property. Parkside failed to make their case to appeal The Best Wurst's Right-of-Way permit on the legal grounds provided. Instead, they turned to dirty politics and leveraged a long list of unsubstantiated and exaggerated complaints and violations to ensure their agenda of building a balcony, and ultimately a sidewalk cafe.

The Best Wurst's permit expired on June 16, 2010, and the issue has yet to be solved. Fortunately, the City of Austin has willingly allowed The Best Wurst to continue operating on week-to-week permits while they try to resolve the matter. But time is not on our side. The Cirkiels have been generating the false impression that The Best Wurst can simply move “across the street.” Right-of-Way permits for mobile food vending are site specific and have defined space requirements and limitations – a mobile food vendor cannot simply “roll down the street,” and locations are very difficult to acquire. Currently, there are no other available, licensable spots on East 6th Street. Even if there were, we must keep in mind that other locations may not prove to be viable for the success, or even the survival, of The Best Wurst.

Austin has historically fostered a climate for successful small businesses – including street vendors – that support each other. It is unethical to ask The Best Wurst to move their location because a brick-and-mortar business does not like it there due to unfounded allegations. For the past 17 years, The Best Wurst has had its permit to operate on 6th and San Jacinto. It has been supportive of the Parkside’s desire to build an upstairs balcony to expand their business (which would not legally interfere with the presence of The Best Wurst upon completion of construction). Now, The Best Wurst is in danger of being pushed out. The Parkside even has plans to build a sidewalk cafĂ©. It is evident that the Parkside is taking one small step at a time to have sidewalk – which is City and public property – just the way they want it, even if it means sacrificing another business and its employees.


The Best Wurst is openly supported by businesses that could have been – or can currently be considered – true competitors: Frank in the neighboring Warehouse District (sells sausage sandwiches as their main menu item), Dan McKlusky’s (shared the corner with them for 13 years), El Sol y La Luna (who currently shares a corner with their second cart on 6th & Red River), Big Top Dogs and many other cart vendors and trailers along East 6th Street (all targeting the same bar crowds). This type of co-existence among diverse businesses and eateries is what has contributed to the fantastic spirit of Austin as a unique, creative and friendly city!

When we forget this ideal and don’t work together preserve such street vendors full of character and charm in our landscape, we will be silent contributors to erasing the tradition of diversity in Austin, which will ultimately destroy our small businesses and food establishments, and locally-based economy as a whole. Moving is not an option for The Best Wurst, which has become a definitive Austin icon! They have paid nearly two decades worth of fees and taxes at their current location on 6th & San Jacinto. Furthermore, that corner has become part of their brand and has become crucial not only to their success, but to their ability to survive as a small business and keep musicians and artists generously employed. Although they have a second cart, their cart in front of Parkside accounts for 85-90% of their business.


Jon Notarthomas, owner of The Best Wurst, has gone above and beyond the call of duty as a small business owner by being a leader in his community: by helping other small business owners get their start, survive, and ultimately be successful in a challenging market, by being a generous friend and employer to many people, by giving to local charities, and by being a responsible tax payer and contributor to the local economy. The Best Wurst has been fully compliant with City of Austin regulations, to the degree that the Austin/Travis County Health Department has referred people seeking to start similar businesses to The Best Wurst for advice. The Best Wurst has an impeccable health record and offers their inspection records to the public.

Contrary to the "bad boy" image that owners of the Parkside claim, The Best Wurst is proud of being a conscientious watch dog on the sometimes rowdy strip, and can even take credit for exposing two cases of counterfeiting which led to arrests. Notarthomas and employees of The Best Wurst have prevented fights on East 6th Street, called the police in dangerous situations, and kept streets safe by putting inebriated individuals in cabs, sometimes paying out of their own pocket.

The Best Wurst has been credited as paving the way for Austin’s mobile food vendor explosion. Not only has it recently been voted Austin Chronicle’s “Best Street Food”, but it has afforded immeasurable positive promotion for the City of Austin and is recognized nationally after appearances on the Food Network, MTV, and The Tonight Show. It has become a staple in downtown Austin, for locals and visitors (particularly during SxSW) and has contributed to the festive environment on East 6th Street that so many people seek and enjoy today.

No comments:

Post a Comment