The opening of Bespoke, a new restaurant featuring modern American cuisine operated by the owners of Roomba, is the latest sign of a continuing expansion of Chapel District’s culinary offerings.
The Chapel District has seen a significant growth in restaurants in recent years, Roomba and Bespoke co-owner Suzette Franco-Camacho said. A decade ago, there were very few dining options in the area, but the opening of a cluster of restaurants seven years ago in the Chapel District — including Zinc, Hot Tomatoes and Roomba — has created momentum, she said, encouraging other culinary entrepreneurs to invest in the area.
“[The restaurant openings] gave people a boost,” Franco-Camacho said. “New Haven was coming back, and it was the catalyst for others coming [as] they saw that we were succeeding.”
Director of University Properties David Newton said the surge in New Haven’s culinary activity over the last few years is a result of a rejuvenation of the city’s downtown districts — also including Broadway, Ninth Square and Audubon — which is drawing customers from the surrounding regions back into the city.
“People are coming back who had not thought of doing so,” he said. “I think it is part of the New Haven renaissance. In many cases, the restaurants … have been occupied if not by the current tenants, by previous tenants.”
University Properties owns a significant part of the property on Chapel Street between College Street and High Street, including buildings that house a number of restaurants.
Claire Criscuolo, chef and owner of Claire’s Corner Copia, which has existed for over 30 years, said the Chapel district has an aesthetic and a historical appeal, enhanced by its proximity to Old Campus, which gives it an edge over other neighborhoods in its appeal to customers.
The influx of restaurants in the district has also helped improve business in local stores by adding to foot traffic in the neighborhood, said Jane Byrnes, an employee of Wave Gallery.
“People browse here on the way to the theatre from dinner and very often they buy something,” she said.
Byrnes said Wave Gallery has a close relationship with local restaurants and has a list of recommended restaurants it shares with customers.
But while the district has seen an expansion in its restaurant offerings, Criscuolo said she often hears customers at her restaurant complain about the narrowness of the city’s retail industry.
“Customers are always asking why there aren’t more stores for women over 30,” she said.
Franco-Camacho said about half of her clientele resides in the city or the surrounding region — including some professors, students and their families — while the other half consists primarily of businessmen traveling between New York and Boston. While much of the city’s renaissance has centered around the Chapel District, Franco-Camacho said, the optimism of business owners in the city has allowed other neighborhoods — such as Broadway, Ninth Square and Temple Street — to experience similar commercial redevelopment in recent years.
“If you are coming from Hartford or West Haven and you pull off the highway for New Haven, the familiar street is Chapel,” she said. “People are more open-minded to branching out, [and] Broadway is a good example of people taking a shot in other areas.”