Local eateries diversify

Jack of all trades, but master of none?

That commonplace warning does not seem to faze New Haven entrepreneurs, as the owners of several well-known downtown eateries pursue less gastronomic business endeavors.

Zaroka Bar and Restaurant, which held the grand opening of its international crafts boutique Mandala Gallery on Tuesday, is just one of several downtown restaurants that have recently announced plans to open a second business in a completely different domain. Owners of other popular New Haven spots, including Roomba and Pacifico, are also broadening their horizons with new ventures around the city.

Zaroka co-owner Ram Shrestha started up a new crafts store after spending six years in the Indian food business. Mandala Gallery sells handmade clothes, accessories and antiques from Nepal, India and Tibet. Although Shresthra said he is still committed to the restaurant, he said it has always been his dream to open a store like Mandala.

“I am from Nepal and would like to bring some stuff from my home to New Haven,” he said. “I have not seen these kinds of stores here yet.”

A crafts store is a drastic leap from curry and vindaloo, but Shrestha is not going out on this limb alone. Nuevo Latino restaurant Pacifico plans to open a sports-themed restaurant, Manchester Bar and Grill, in the basement of Yale’s annex space next to Davenport. Roomba is also opening a new restaurant next month and hopes to open a boutique hotel.

Director of Marketing at University Properties Shana Schneider said the inclination to open multiple businesses in New Haven is a sign of the city’s improving economic health. These restaurant owners are just the first to take advantage of the growth of the downtown area, she said.

“It is a positive trend,” Schneider said. “These are folks who are in New Haven every day, seeing the revitalization of the city hands-on. People are coming in for the shops, the arts and the restaurants. They see that more people are being attracted to New Haven.”

But although New Haven seems to be a hot spot for restaurants, the downtown area has recently seen many empty store windows. York Copy Center closed its storefront on York Street and moved to Whitney Avenue over the summer. A number of Broadway retail spaces have had “retail coming soon” flyers posted for months, and some business owners on Wall St. have said ongoing University construction is making it hard to make ends meet.

Still, Scott Healy, the executive director of the Town Green Special Services district, said the trend of opening a second business expresses great confidence in the New Haven marketplace. Owners already familiar with the city could see opportunities that outsiders might miss, he said, such as the residential boom in the downtown area and rapidly disappearing retail space.

Roomba’s new restaurant Bespoke will open at 266 College St. during the first week of November, Roomba manager D.B. Wilkins said. Co-owner Arturo Franco-Camacho said the new restaurant will feature a different menu that will focus on a more “global cuisine” than Roomba does.

Roomba is also partnering with local developers Andrea Pizziconi and John Wareck in their proposal to redevelop the Shartenberg site, a 1.5 acre parking lot on Chapel Street. Pizziconi and Wareck intend to integrate a 56-room boutique hotel managed by Roomba into a 19-story tower filled with condominiums and apartments, though their plan is still competing against seven other proposals.

Shesthra, of Zaroka, said his desire to branch out was inspired by the growth and energy of the city. In the past ten years, he said, he has watched New Haven change into a great town with a lot of diversity and attraction.

“Now, New Haven looks like a little Manhattan,” he said. “Everyone wants to come to New Haven, and that’s why restaurants want to come and businesses want to open. We would like to make the city better and better.”

Mandala Gallery is located on 224 College St. in downtown’s Lower Chapel District.

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