Counter Culture: Students and local food workers are bound by more than business

This article is one of the winning submissions from the New York Post Scholars Contest, presented by Command Education.

Perhaps one of the most unique and valuable privileges Stuyvesant High School offers its students is the option to leave school grounds during lunch breaks and free periods. This gives students the opportunity to explore the neighborhood of Tribeca, which is densely packed with restaurants, food carts and coffee shops. Over the years, several of these spots have become staples among Stuyvesant students.

The Battery Park City Gourmet Market, a deli christened “Ferry’s” by Stuyvesant students, sits on the corner of Chambers Street and North End Avenue. Its nickname is a portmanteau of the phrase “Fake Terry’s,” a reference to a similarly popular deli, Terry’s, nearby. The student-fueled rivalry between the two delis is an inside joke shared, fueling the never-ending debate over which is the superior “-erry’s.” As each generation of students grows attached to their favorite deli, they become part of a tradition that will continue long past their time at Stuyvesant.

Eva Moore, a Ferry’s cashier who has been an employee for over 14 years, reflects on the student culture that she has observed working at the business. “Every year I see the different kids, it’s a different experience, and it’s nice. It’s nice to see them grow. I would say [the culture] hasn’t really changed, it’s the same people. I’ve known people for more than 13 years, working around—many people in the buildings, teachers—so not [much] really changed,” Moore reminisces.

Even as the Stuyvesant student body experiences frequent changes in leadership, policies and academics, the culture built around Ferry’s persists, remaining a comforting constant in the Stuyvesant experience.

Moore points out the unique challenges that she has experienced at her job as a result of the pandemic. “I love this shop. It’s not really a challenge [to work here]. The only challenging thing I’ve had [to face] was when there was the pandemic. It was pretty hard—I mean, I come here every day, and take care of the people walking around, and they really need us to open to buy food,” she explains. “Sometimes I get worried [about] work, [because] I have kids at home.”

While Stuyvesant students were able to adapt to an online learning format when the school building closed, the local businesses around Stuyvesant did not have the luxury of shutting down. The lack of students in the Stuyvesant building forced workers to navigate a vacuum within the customer bases of nearby eateries. At the same time, employees had to prioritize their health while their businesses remained open to serve their remaining customers.

Despite the ups and downs, Moore enjoys working among students and is attached to the crowds that swarm Ferry’s during lunch periods and after school. “To be honest, if they told me to go somewhere else, I couldn’t, because I love the place. You know, to serve the kids. I think they’re more gentle, and I think I’m enjoying it a lot. Sometimes they come in with the jokes, they make me laugh. Sometimes they make me a little upset, but it is what it is,” Moore says.

Whether it’s the vast menu or simply the convenience of its location, Ferry’s has become a cornerstone of Stuyvesant culture. Sophomore Lily K. shares that she enjoys the business’ welcoming environment. “It’s got that classic New York deli vibe, except it’s in Tribeca and it’s upscale,” she comments.

Lily expresses that she has had very positive interactions with the workers at Ferry’s, something that makes her appreciate the deli even more. “The cashier was super nice. She was really patient with me. I remember this one time I was trying to get change out of my bag and she was waiting and was like, ‘Take your time, it’s fine.’ And it was really sweet,” Lily says.

In her eyes, these local eateries have become an integral part of the Stuyvesant community. “Everybody knows what you’re talking about when you say Ferry’s or Terry’s,” she points out.

Like Lily, sophomore Colyi C. often purchases food from Ferry’s and expressed that local businesses allow students to connect with one another, though not necessarily directly. “A lot of people go to these places, and a lot of people get similar foods there,” she explains. The immense popularity of Ferry’s specialties, including the Roma Panini and the Bacon Avocado Chipotle on a roll, is proof of the traditions that have been passed down for years.

While some of Stuyvesant’s favorite local food spots are famed for their sandwiches, others have gained reputations as both mood and energy boosters. Many students make it a habit to visit the Chambers Street Coffee Cart every day, where they are able to purchase a caffeine fix while striking up a lively conversation with the cart’s employees.

“The two guys that work [at the cart] are really nice and prepare the coffee perfectly,” shares sophomore Reem K. She notes the nostalgia that the Stuyvesant community feels when visiting local food carts years after graduation. “I think it’s something, regardless of what year you’re in or if you’re an alum, you still look back [at] and remember,” she says. “It’s a bonding experience [for] Stuyvesant students to get coffee from the cart after pulling an all-nighter.”

Mohamad Sherzada, who has been working at the Chambers Street Coffee Cart by the 1, 2, and 3 train station for 22 years, shares his experience from the other side of the cart’s sliding window. Every day, flocks of students exit the subway station and stop by. Sherzada expresses his appreciation for his student clientele. “[I] enjoy [my job because of] the school. [When] people are coming in the morning time, there’s laughing and happiness. When the school is getting off [for break], I get pissed off,” he says.

What Stuyvesant students do not see are the hardships Sherzada faces in running his coffee cart. He explained that a constant challenge for him is his early clock-in time. He wakes up at 2:30 a.m. every morning, a time when some Stuyvesant students are just getting into bed. By 5:00 a.m., he is already parked at his usual location, ready to greet another day’s worth of customers. With over two decades of student interactions at his cart, Sherzada has had a similar experience to Moore with being near the Stuyvesant building. “Only the students have changed. They graduate,” he says. “The students finish and the new people come in. That’s it. That’s the only change.”

However, according to Fermin Torres, who has worked at Terry’s for the past decade, even as generations of students come and go, alumni still stop by their favorite Stuyvesant eateries for a nostalgic snack.

The deli is a convenient spot for Stuyvesant students, located on the same block as the school building and a short walk away from Rockefeller Park, where students enjoy sitting on park benches framed by a scenic view. Terry’s sells an assortment of snacks and customizable sandwiches, as well as the famed pizza bagel. Torres sees up to a hundred students daily, as well as some Stuyvesant alumni. “A lot of students pass through the years, and they’ve always joked with me then, and sometimes they come back after they graduate. Some still come by for the pizza bagel,” Torres says.

Perhaps the magnetism of these local businesses has to do with the socialization they foster, which has helped students come out of their shells. Sophomore Dannyar A. shares that visiting these local businesses has encouraged him to strike up conversations more often. He also expresses that they can provide the opportunity for students to sample the diverse array of foods that New York City has to offer without straying too far from Chambers Street. For Dannyar, the ability to explore the variety of eateries allows him to appreciate the unique culture both within and outside of Stuyvesant.

Since the year Stuyvesant moved to Chambers Street, its students have shared a unique relationship with the local eateries that surround it. The lives of employees at nearby food carts, delis and restaurants inevitably intertwine with those of the student body, even as generations of students come and go. These spots not only serve as reliable sources of sustenance, but also provide environments that are familiar and relaxing. Standing as an unwavering entity in the daily lives of hustling students, these local eateries are undeniably essential to the dynamics of Stuyvesant culture.

An 11th-grader at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, Saha aims to be a software engineer one day.

An 11th-grader at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, Xi hopes to be a journalist or work in the entertainment industry.