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Sixth Street food operations in dispute over sidewalk

Mike Sutter
Best Wurst has been selling food from a cart on the sidewalk in front of the Parkside location, which used to house Dan McClusky's, since the 1990s. Parkside has applied for a sidewalk cafe permit for the same area.

A sidewalk turf dispute is creating a gulf between two East Sixth Street food businesses that operate within feet of each other.

The fine-dining restaurant Parkside is opposing the renewal of a permit allowing the Best Wurst food cart to operate on the sidewalk outside Parkside.

Jon Notarthomas has owned Best Wurst since the mid-'90s. "We had a great relationship with Dan McClusky's," he said of the steakhouse that preceded Parkside, which opened in 2008. "We did know that (Parkside) didn't want us there from the get-go. But I figured over time, they'd see that we're good neighbors," he said.

Notarthomas' permit, which expired in mid-June, is being extended until the city investigates Parkside's complaints, said Jason Redfern, manager of the city division that governs the usage of rights of way. He didn't have an estimate for when that process would be completed.

Those complaints are enumerated in letters to the city by Parkside chef-owner Shawn Cirkiel and his parents, Martin and Pamela Cirkiel, who own the building at 301 E. Sixth St.

Their complaints include contentions that the cart violates space restrictions, sells similar products, attracts crowds that leave debris and block the sidewalk, and that the cart will conflict with Parkside's balcony, for which construction is scheduled to begin later this month. Notarthomas disagrees with those contentions.

Shawn Cirkiel said the dispute is about property rights. "Am I out to close Jon's business? No. Do I want Jon to move? Yes," he said.

Simply moving the cart isn't a comfortable option for Notarthomas. "People say, 'Why don't you just go work in one of the trailer-park eateries, or why don't you go to South Congress?'\u2009" he said. "I feel like our brand is Sixth Street."

For now, the cart will remain outside Parkside, but during balcony construction, it will have to move. Notarthomas said he arranged with the city and the nightclub Vice across the street to operate outside the club last week, when construction was originally planned.

Noise from the club made it difficult to take orders, he said, calling the drop in business "disastrous."

The Best Wurst operates a second cart at East Sixth and Red River streets, but Notarthomas said 85 to 90 percent of his business comes from the cart outside Parkside.

Cirkiel said he respects his neighbor's business, but "if your neighbor had a party every night, and every night they left trash at your front door and smeared mustard and sauerkraut and ketchup on your door and windows, what would you do?" Parkside also has applied for a sidewalk cafe permit that would make the space in front unavailable for vendors.

More than 1,500 people have joined a "Save the Best Wurst" group on Facebook. People posting on the site have called Cirkiel a bully and a snob. Cirkiel said e-mails have included boycott threats and personal attacks.

"It's like when people talk about how I can go back to New York," he said. "It's just funny. My family's been in Austin since '43," he said.

msutter@statesman.com; 912-5902