For the local deli TJ’s Breakaway, the ’90s are over.
Eighteen years ago, North Haven resident Susan Hurd and her husband, Thomas, opened family-owned TJ’s Breakaway Deli on Whitney Avenue to give their two children a place to work during high school. But now, with their children living out of the state and the economy forcing the restaurant into the red, the couple will be closing the deli’s doors Thursday.
“We’re done,” Susan Hurd said. “We can’t keep struggling like this.”
Hurd and her husband said they will move to Indiana by the end of May with no plans or jobs in mind; their business prospects are more promising “anywhere but here,” Hurd said. In their current New Haven location, a short walk from Timothy Dwight College and Yale’s Undergraduate Career Services offices, Hurd estimates TJ’s receives only 40 to 50 customers per day.
But Hurd said this was not the case just eight months ago. Revenue was almost double what it is now, she said, and the deli attracted 75 to 80 customers daily. A few years ago, that number was 275 to 300, she added.
“Give me back the ’90s and we could stay open,” Hurd said. “But we can’t now. This is insanity, just insanity. Insanity.”
In May, the deli was decorated entirely in Red Sox memorabilia with posters filling the walls and sports fans pouring in to argue about the latest game. Today, the restaurant is bare with blank white walls supporting only old menus, a handful of empty wooden tables and the Hurds waiting in front of the register. Yet the sports-themed deli still serves its signature sandwich, the “Bobby O,” which consists of pastrami with corned beef, Russian dressing and cole slaw and is named after the Boston Bruins hockey legend Bobby Orr.
Another thing that has not changed, said longtime regular customer Mary Varga, is the people at TJ’s.
“I’ve been coming here since they started,” Varga said while ordering lunch at the eatery Thursday afternoon. “And it’s not just about the food; it’s the friendliness.”
“They make me feel like a regular even though I’m not,” resident Brett David Lindenbach added, noting that employees at TJ’s know the regular orders of even the most infrequent customers.
Among those customers are many Yale affiliates, Hurd said, noting many catering events for Yale-sponsored luncheons, including some with nearby Yale offices such as the Provost’s Office and the Office of Development.
“Yale people are calling me now wondering what they are going to do,” Hurd said. “But I can’t do anything.”
TJ’s is not the only local business feeling heat. Next door, Style Boutique, an upscale clothing store, plans to close its door by the end of the month — just five months after its December grand opening.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to recover,” owner Irina Ananina said. She said the boutique made no profit in January or February of this year, forcing her to sell products 50 to 70 percent off their normal price and below their wholesale cost.
But both owners said their landlord — the Simon Konover Company, which owns several properties in downtown New Haven, including Whitney Grove Square and One Century Tower — has been understanding through rough times.
“They haven’t been busting my chops over anything when we’ve had trouble,” Hurd said. “The state and city didn’t help us, but, if there has been anyone that’s helped us, it’s been Konover.”
Brutal economic times have shut the doors of 3,477 Connecticut businesses between Jan. 1 and March 31, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz ’83 said Monday. The figure represents the worst first-quarter numbers since her office began keeping track of the closures.