Little Salad Shop joins streetscape in flux

When The Little Salad Shop opened its doors this fall at 45 High St. — joining the stretch of the street between Chapel and Crown that includes Starbucks, Y Haircutting and Ibiza — the store became the fifth business to operate from the location in the past decade.

Mailboxes Etc., Tasti D-Lite, Liberry and High Street Burger have all cycled through the hole-in-the-wall space. But the new leasers of the 600-square-foot location, Etkin Tekin ’12 and Jerry Choinski ’12, say The Little Salad Shop is in New Haven to stay.

Tekin and Choinski said they are not worried about the frequent changeovers of businesses past because The Little Salad Shop provides a product for which there is no direct competition in the area.

Seven years ago, business on the block tended to slow down after 5 p.m. and High Street was dark in the evenings, said the location’s third part-owner Robert Klinger, who has run businesses from 45 High St. since 2009. Now, Froyoworld, high-end Ibiza, the Latin-fusion ¡Ay Salsa! and the recently-opened Chocopologie are all working to attract foot traffic both during lunch and dinner hours.

As the streetscape continues to change, a question arises: Does the past decade of cycling storefronts at 45 High St. — from frozen dessert to burgers to salads — represent a “curse” on the spot’s occupants? Or does it instead reflect the flux and growth the entire street has seen? As the block becomes increasingly trendy, new stores such as the Little Salad Shop build on a mixed legacy as they attempt, finally, to be the shop that lasts.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH

The Little Salad Shop’s owners said they saw the space as “right in the heart of downtown” and felt that because their product was unique in the area, the business would succeed.

“It’s a very lucky location for us,” Choinski said.

Historically, 45 High St. has found success when providing a product available nowhere else in New Haven. When Carole Chu ’92 opened her Tasti D-Lite franchise in 2004, 45 High St. was the Yale community’s only source of frozen dessert, Klinger said. Though the store was later renamed the Liberry and Klinger purchased it due to franchising issues within Tasti D-Lite’s parent company, he said, the location continued to provide frozen yogurts and light ice creams. Klinger said this business concept “always made money.”

At least until the opening of Froyoworld, which Klinger said caused the Liberry to lose 90 percent of its business. He added that perhaps he could have worked harder to capitalize on having owned the only frozen yogurt shop in New Haven; Froyoworld was new, he said, while Liberry needed a “facelift.”

Tekin and Choinski, members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, which has a house down the street, are confident that The Little Salad Shop fills an untapped market in the New Haven area, just as Tasti D-Lite and Liberry once did. The Little Salad Shop is within walking distance for many Yale College students, graduate students and professionals working in downtown New Haven, Tekin said, and The Little Salad Shop business owners strove to provide this group of potential customers with an affordable, “simple, healthy alternative” to what other nearby restaurants offer.

“[Choinski] and I lived off campus last year and it was really troublesome to find healthy eating options,” Tekin said, adding that in the area, “there’s really no … salad bar place.”

Down the block, Chocopologie is also hoping to tap into an as-yet-untapped market. After a series of short-lived pop-up shops occupied its location, Danyel Aversenti, CEO of Our Empty Space, a company that facilitates pop-up retail in New Haven and helped to launch Chocopologie, said the gourmet chocolatier may be more permanent. She said they anticipate visitors from out of town who will find the New Haven location more convenient than the original Chocopologie Café in South Norwalk, Conn.

Customer Jessica Shor ’13 came to the chocolate store this weekend and said she felt the concept fit in with a street of niche products.

“The staples are already covered around campus,” Shor, who is a staff writer for the News, said. “What’s coming in [to High Street] is more off-beat things.”

‘ON THE UP-AND-UP’

Success at 45 High St. depends not just on a creative product, of course, but also on appealing to the correct demographic.

After Klinger closed the Liberry, he reopened 45 High St. as High Street Burger, a steamed cheeseburger business which remained open for about a year. The burgers were popular with fraternity members and people living on High Street but failed to appeal to those working downtown, Klinger said. Although High Street Burger was still making money when Tekin and Choinski approached him with the idea for The Little Salad Shop, Klinger agreed that it had greater potential as a business.

Klinger felt The Little Salad Shop better complemented Froyoworld, he said, attracting the same “demographic of [the] mostly female, younger, healthy eater.”

The interior of The Little Salad Shop also has a “much younger” vibe than High Street Burger did, Klinger said.

“[High Street Burger] wasn’t bad; it was mistargeted,” Tekin said. “Their business relied heavily on the New Haven population where High Street lends itself to appealing to Yale.”

Still, Choinski and Tekin maintained that The Little Salad Shop has the potential to appeal to “everyone,” and that the location is accessible to both Yale campus and the New Haven community.

The businesses at 45 High St. have previously relied heavily on foot traffic rather than promotional campaigns, but Choinski and Tekin are planning new marketing strategies to capitalize on the location. They are tapping into the Yale market with LettuceFest, a competition that pits members of Yale’s various fraternities and sororities against one another to see which group can purchase the most salads. The Little Salad Shop owners said they plan to launch the contest for residential colleges next month.

The store’s revenues have been increasing since it opened at the end of August, Tekin said. Over 200 customers visit The Little Salad Shop every day, shift manager Corey Cummings said.

With the recent additions to the block, it seems Tekin and Choinski are not alone in their high expectations. Chocopologie owner Christian Wilki also declared his store’s opening a success. He said he was pleased by his observation that foot traffic in the area had increased in recent years.

Y Haircutting employee Ron Carano, who worked there when the shop moved to High Street 12 years ago, attributed some of the growth to the new stores that have cropped up.

“We were a little scared coming here [to High Street], but … this little street that we knew nothing about is really growing,” Carano said.

A customer added: “It’s on the up-and-up.”

The Little Salad Shop projects breaking even by the end of November, Choinski said.

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