Maxwell Schiano was leaving the Apple store on Fifth Avenue and 59th St. when he was struck by the glow of a food cart at 3am, with barely anyone around. “My train of thought just stopped and I had to photograph it,” he said. That moment inspired Schiano to launch his NYC Food Cart Zine project on Kickstarter.
The 28-page zine will be a collection of New York’s most iconic food carts, from the Sabrett food carts with their signature blue-and-yellow umbrellas to the colorful halal carts with animated LED signs. The cover of the zine seizes a late night moment: a man in black stands in front of a hot dog cart, the faint shape of the owner blending seamlessly with the cart’s hazy glass window and bright white lights.
Schiano is a freelance content creator, filmmaker and photographer in New York. Born in Huntington, Long Island, he grew up in several places in Michigan, Ohio and Maine but he and his family would come to New York for every holiday. Schiano moved back to the city in 2007 and works as a social media editor and producer for Yadastar, a creative and editorial agency that ran Red Bull music properties such as its Music Academy and online radio station.
But last year, his company got restructured and the section that Schiano worked for got laid off. Since then, he has spent time reconnecting with why he does what he does creatively. He hopes the food cart zine will serve as a time capsule to preserve the ordinary beauty of the city. Rain or shine, the people running these food carts are out on the streets all day and all night. “I feel like it just really represents the real hustle of the city that people love,” Schiano said.
Helping Schiano with the design of the zine is Paul Raffaele, who was born in Staten Island and now lives in Greenpoint. An art director, graphic designer and DJ, Raffaele also co-founded a monthly fanzine about dance music and dance-floor culture, Love Injection.
At a time when neighborhoods are changing and everything is getting way more expensive and gentrified, these food carts are the reminiscences of a different time in New York, Raffaele said. “It’s one of these things you interact with every day but you don’t really think about.”
Schiano has a habit of wandering around the city with his Sony A7r4 or Fujifilm XT-3 camera or both in his backpack. He takes pictures every day and anytime, even when he only has his iPhone with him. The goal is to capture the full experience across the different neighborhoods in the city, but the cold weather comes with certain challenges. He probably won’t be able to photograph the fruit carts until it gets warmer, for instance. “Mr. Softee is probably not going to be out in the wintertime,” he added.
Schiano has begun to post photos of the food carts on his Instagram, and the reactions have been positive. Some who’ve left the city have commented that the photos made them miss New York. His identical twin brother, Michael, has also been giving Schiano feedback on the zine. Michael is excited that this is only the beginning of a bigger project celebrating the everyday charm and diverse cultures of the city, whether it is through people or through food. He describes the zine as “a love letter to New York.”
The NYC Food Cart Zine’s Kickstarter campaign has reached its fundraising goals in only two weeks.