Falafel has caused an uproar on a street corner in downtown Baltimore.
When Vassos Yiannouris and his wife, Maria Kaimakis, introduced the Middle Eastern chick pea ball a year ago from their cart on the sidewalk, they only wanted to make a living. They had lost their jobs in the car business.
At first, the Cypriana Sidewalk Gourmet cart's business was slow at Light and Water streets. Few people had ever heard of falafel. But soon the couple's food caught the fancy of lawyers, dentists and bankers who stood in line to eat their falafel and grilled chicken in pita bread.
But their food's popularity has worn thin with a few nearby property owners and restaurateurs.
Their foes say they have an unfair advantage over restaurants because they don't pay rent. Their fans note the couple has a license from the city to work on the corner and say they have some of the best food in town for less than $4.
While a few property owners are asking the city's zoning board to ban the couple's sidewalk cart from the corner, dozens of downtown workers and business owners have sent the zoning board petitions and letters on their behalf.
One of the couple's chief detractors is Robert E. Morrow, a New Yorker who owns three Water Street properties. He said he has been opposed to street vendors for several years because they make the streets dirty.
But supporters of the Cypriana Sidewalk Gourmet disagree.
"They are 10 to 12 feet from my doorway. I have no complaints," said Melvin Mazer, who owns Mazer's Harbor Jewelers at 29 Light St. The sidewalk area is . . . "cleaner when they leave than when I find it when I open up in the morning," he said.
A little more than a year ago, Mr. Yiannouris and Ms. Kaimakis received city permission to use the corner. They designed their $15,000 custom-built cart with the approval of the city Health Department and took out a second mortgage on their Patterson Park rowhouse to pay for it.
Before then, Mr. Yiannouris had never even heard of falafel -- a treatserved on the sidewalks of Israel. Mr. Yiannouris, who is from Cyprus, and Ms. Kaimakis, from East Baltimore, decided to try selling food from a sidewalk stand when their income from the car business dwindled.
"We wanted to be an exclusive thing," said Mr. Yiannouris. "I didn't know what falafel was. I went to Philadelphia and to New York to see friends and they said, you have to sell falafel." They fry the extra large balls of ground chick peas, fava beans and herbs, then serve them inside pita pockets with vegetables.
They are also known for their grilled chicken and pork, served with Ms. Kaimakis' secret recipe for tarragon sauce.
Barbara Brandt, who is employed by Mr. Morrow's Kenilworth Equities, is leading the charge to oust the couple from the corner. Acting in behalf of Mr. Morrow, Ms. Brandt recently retained former city judge and city solicitor George L. Russell Jr. to help get rid of the sidewalk vendor.
The two forces will square off March 31 at a City Hall zoning hearing.