New York City’s Menu Wars

In the early 1990s, food delivery services on Manhattan’s Upper West Side sparked what New York Times writer Emily M. Bernstein called “the menu wars.” Everyone from dry cleaners to nail salons followed Chinese restaurants’ lucrative lead, placing paper take-out menus inside apartment buildings’ lobbies and mail rooms and under residents’ doors. Angry tenants demanded that businesses stop. Fistfights erupted. Local government got involved. In 1996, Jane H. Lii wrote in The New York Times about the hard-working delivery men at the center of the battle. Here’s an excerpt:

”At least with this job we can make enough to survive,” said Li W. Xiao. ”You can do twice the work and make half the money in a garment factory.”

Until a year ago, Mr. Li, who was smuggled into America just four years ago, thought he was on top of the world. Inspired by the American entrepreneurial spirit, he and his brother took a gamble and borrowed $20,000 from friends and relatives to open a garment factory in Brooklyn. But they did not realize how fierce the competition would be. After they opened, orders never came in enough volume for them to pay the bills. They shut down the factory six months ago. Now, in addition to his smuggling debt, Mr. Li owes $10,000 more.

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