To mark the reopening of Italian restaurant Est Est Est last Thursday, owner and manager Gebril Ayman decorated his storefront with strings of red, blue, green, yellow and white flags. Ayman hopes the festive accoutrements — meant to celebrate upgraded kitchen equipment and new personnel — will help attract students to the Chapel Street eatery and restore it to its pre-closure popularity among Elis.
When the streamers finally come down, however, Ayman will have to face the harsh reality of an economy in turmoil and the resulting loss in students’ purchasing power. Ayman says he is not worried about the future of his 71-year-old establishment, but several fellow restaurant owners in the Chapel-Park neighborhood expressed apprehension about their business prospects, given the decline in customer patronage over the last year.
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“We wanted to update [our exterior], the stoves, ovens, tables, people, everything,” said Ayman, who has owned the restaurant since 1997. “We just want to get the students’ attention.”
But despite the pizzeria’s new look visible through its large glass windows and from the two small tables and metal chairs outside — the menu offers the same assortment of appetizers, salads, pasta, seafood and subs as before.
Students interviewed Monday about whether they would try the restaurant often cited the distance of the pizzeria from their respective residential colleges as a factor.
“I’m in Pierson and pretty close to that restaurant,” Sigrid Von Wendel ’12 said. “I’ve never been there. But the new discounts sound pretty good,” she said referring to the discounts on bulk orders
But Est Est Est is surrounded by a host of other restaurants — including Indochine Pavilion, Pad Thai and Sullivan’s Pub and Restaurant — all competing for the same group of students and local residents.
When asked about the possibility of competition, Ayman replied that he does not feel that business at Est Est Est will be significantly affected.
“We have great pizza, and lots of students come,” Ayman said. “Other restaurants don’t bother us at all.”
Ahmed Saleh, a veteran waiter at Est Est Est and a friend of Ayman’s, said the restaurant has become an integral part of the Yale community.
“We’re an important part of New Haven,” he said. “That’s why we close at 1 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday and even later on Friday and Saturday nights.”
But Kala Wajanasawad, a part-time assistant at Pad Thai, located next door to Est Est Est, expressed disappointment with the recent decrease in student demand that has resulted from a rise in food costs.
“We used to have more people here every day,” Wajanasawad said, “but now, because of rising food prices, weak economy, people are not willing to spend.”
Charlene Sullivan, co-owner of Sullivan’s Pub and Restaurant, also on Chapel Street, echoed those concerns.
“We have loyal customers, so competition does not affect us too much,” she said when asked whether she is concerned about the reopening of Est Est Est. “But the economy does — we’ve seen less people this September than usual.”