Seven months after its grand opening, Briq has found its niche in the Elm City’s highly competitive restaurant scene that already features five tapas-inspired restaurants in the downtown area.
The newest spot to take over the unique multi-floor space at 266 College St., Briq features a mix of global tapas and family-style dining. Menu offerings include a plethora of small plates, such as Szechuan tofu, Korean fired chicken, “drunken” cheesy bread and lobster mashed potatoes. Owner Leon DeMaille, a first-time restaurateur, bought the building in 2009 from the owner of fine-dining restaurant Bespoke and sought to develop a restaurant geared toward community dining. DeMaille frequented Barcelona many times as a customer, developed a relationship with the then-Executive Chef Mike Hazen and brought him on board when he founded Briq.
“If you go back to the original concept of the pub or the tavern, it was always a center for the community to come together — local people,” DeMaille said. “I thought New Haven was missing a place for the diversity and eclectic nature of the New Haven population to come and enjoy the sharing, community-style dining experience.”
Although the team originally intended to name the restaurant “City Mix”, the owners decided on Briq because of the building’s popularity and recognition among Elm City residents. Yale Architecture School students frequently walk to the building to draw sketches for classes. The 9,000-square-foot space includes five different rooms, including two dining rooms, a cellar, loft and rooftop deck.
The building’s floorplan resembles that of a home, in order to make guests feel like they have multiple rooms in which to enjoy the restaurant experience.
Hazen believes his restaurant is different from restaurants in the area, such as Barcelona, because his restaurant goes beyond just tapas to feature a complete table plates approach that also includes small plates and sides.
“What makes us different is that everything we do is oriented toward the group and sharing and community,” Hazen said. “Everything we do is table-style dining, so, even if you order a filet mignon or a Briq chicken, it comes sliced for sharing.”
Hazen also said that Briq’s menu differentiates itself, especially when compared with Spanish-focused Barcelona, through its international menu offerings.
Barcelona declined to comment about Briq’s success and the departure of their former chef.
Between April and the end of year, DeMaille said Briq had a goal to break even and establish its brand. However, the restaurant is ahead of schedule, breaking even in September. Although DeMaille believes New Haven has a lot of creative energy, he thinks Briq has succeeded in competitive restaurant scene — New Haven’s downtown has the most restaurants per capita of any other area in the United States — because of his business-first mentality and through a full business plan that was created six months before the restaurant opened.
Despite the success in his first seven months, DeMaille admits the restaurant is a “work in progress,”and opened even though the restaurant rooms were not all finished and the brand was not fully developed.
“We wanted to see what the people wanted,” DeMaille said. “We’ve realized the rooftop area is one of our key areas, and people want to be there through the winter, and it turns out we are more of a late-night place.”
As the restaurant continues to evolve, DeMaille and his team plan to capitalize on the rooftop, one of the few in the downtown area, to give it a more New York City feel by projecting movies on the wall and implementing a cement bar.
During their first seven months, DeMaille says the restaurant has attracted visitors from the Omni and other hotels, Yale students, faculty and staff and staff from the hospital. According to DeMaille, a dozen Yale gatherings, including Yale recruiting for Law School and undergrad birthday parties, have been held at the Briq restaurant in their large rooms not found in many other places throughout the city.
However, in a survey of 30 students, only 20 knew about Briq. DeMaille said that the menu’s structure would be an incentive for Yale students to frequent the restaurant. DeMaille said that Yalies would be attracted to the restaurant because its small plate focus is very amenable to a college student’s budget.
Renita Heng ’16, who went to Briq earlier this fall, fits the mold of students that DeMaille is trying to target. She said she enjoyed the small plates theme the restaurant offers.
Briq is open Sunday through Thursday from 5 pm – 1 am, and from 5 pm – 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays.