Stepping off the 1 train at West 231st Street and Broadway, that unmistakable, wafting scent of grease and spice beckons — crispy thighs, piquant wings, flaky biscuits.
Few, however, probably want to see castoff deep-fry batter and bird bones floating down their streets. Yet, it’s a sight some say they endure all too often in front of the Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen as they hustle to catch the bus to Riverdale during the morning rush hour.
Melissa Jackson passes Popeyes most mornings en route to her job on Manhattan’s Upper West Side from her Sedgwick Avenue home.
“Right where the bus lets off is where the river of batter is almost every single Monday,” Jackson said, adding that sometimes pieces of chicken as well as boxes and wrappers sometimes contribute to the river of muck. “It looks like a pile of vomit.”
While it may be a heyday for the birds that feast on it, the mess, Jackson said, “just makes the neighborhood that’s already a busy and kind of dirty area look so much worse.”
Jackson’s local Assemblyman, Jeffrey Dinowitz, couldn’t agree more.
“We have a lot of people there waiting for the bus,” Dinowitz said. “They shouldn’t have to tolerate horrible conditions. We want (Popeyes) to take steps to make sure that their garbage doesn’t cause any problems.”
Popeyes representatives say they’re working with the Kingsbridge franchise to find a solution, but didn’t provide details. But Popeyes isn’t to blame, so says Hossnara Khaleque, who’s managed the West 231st Street restaurant since 2013.
The moment her employees clock in for their morning shift, they check in front of the restaurant, sweeping away any grime from the sidewalk before thoroughly cleaning the seating area inside, Khaleque said. They then repeat that ritual every 10 or 15 minutes throughout the day.
“Every time they check the seating area, they’re supposed to check outside too,” Khaleque said. “This is our responsibility, to keep our store clean.”
A visit to her restaurant last Friday found the inside nearly immaculate and cool as a meat locker, the only smell that of the succulent, pungently spiced fried chicken.
In fact, the restaurant received an A grade on each of the health department’s last four inspections dating back to 2015, and the department hasn’t received any recent complaints about it, press secretary Carolina Rodríguez said.
Furthermore, neither Khaleque nor any of her workers are even at the restaurant when their private waste hauler — New Jersey-based Century Waste Services — arrives to collect their trash sometime between midnight and 7 a.m., store supervisor Mohammed Rahman said.
Employees secure trash neatly in dark, sturdy bags, Khaleque said, setting them in an organized row along the sidewalk for Century Waste to pick up.
So what’s causing the weekly river of grime? Khaleque points to the hauler’s trash-compressing truck. As the bags are squeezed, they burst, causing their innards to ooze onto the street. She even has security camera footage from the early morning hours of July 23 to suggest that scenario.
A man who identified himself only as “Mike” who claimed to be the owner of Century Waste Services, said he wasn’t aware of the problem, but vowed to address it immediately. He didn’t offer details, however, nor did he respond to multiple additional requests for comment.
Licensed waste collectors are required to keep the sidewalk, curb and roadway next to any area from which waste is removed free from obstruction, garbage, litter, debris, and “other offensive material” resulting from removing trash, according to regulations set by the Business Integrity Commission, which regulates the private waste industry.
The commission received just one complaint in connection with the Kingsbridge Popeyes — back in 2015. Back then, Century Waste was accused of collecting trash and leaving behind spillage after cycling it through their truck, according to commission policy director Salvador Arrona. He didn’t say whether the commission took any regulatory measures against the company or issued a violation of any sort.
Years later, however, the problem persists, and Arrona says the commission will investigate.
Businesses like Popeyes also must adhere to regulations, set by the city’s sanitation department, spokeswoman Belinda Mager said, including keeping the sidewalks in front of their stores clean. Violations can incur fines up to $300.
Businesses are allowed to leave their trash and recycling at the curb for collection by their private carters, Mager added.
Popeyes is playing by the rules, Khaleque maintains, pushing the blame of dirty streets on Century Waste Services.
“There’s nothing wrong with our management, our organization, our company,” Khaleque said. “It’s the garbage company.”
Jackson, however, just wants the mess eliminated for good.
“It’s a shame, in such a beautiful neighborhood, with so much character,” she said. “I think the community can do better than this."