Gourmet Heaven

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Photo by Sally Cho.

6:42 a.m.

Sunlight begins to trickle overtop the bundled roses and past the rows of potato chips until it seems to collect with a concentrated gleam on the silver metal of the buffet bar — and day begins at Broadway’s Gourmet Heaven. Or was it just ending? Owner Chung Cho says he has kept his store operating 24 hours a day since he opened his first shop in New York City in 1992. (The five Gourmet Heaven shops in New York City have since closed.) His employees had to spend the dark hours of the night preparing food, so Cho decided to hire a cashier and welcome night owls.

Bruce Alexander ’65, Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development, explains that he recruited Gourmet Heaven to New Haven in part because it could quell students’ hunger at all hours and also because of the vibrant atmosphere created by the flowers and produce arranged outside. “I was on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in a taxi cab one day,” he said, “and I kept seeing these specialty grocery stores with flowers and produce out front, and I said we needed one of those for New Haven.”

New Haven may rise soon with Wednesday’s sun, but Gourmet Heaven has been awake for quite a while.

8:40 a.m.

Streams of people meander through the shop with the same goal: breakfast. Mack Przecioska, a construction worker who is helping with the renovation of Ezra Stiles College, leans his baggy, neon-yellow shirt against the glass of the deli bar and reads the list of sandwiches — the “Godfather,” the “Italiano.” Each day, a member of his crew journeys to Gourmet Heaven to collect food for the group to eat together on their break. Once he departs with his stash of sandwiches cradled between his arms and his T-shirt, a man with a crisp purple suit and a striped tie steps forward to order above the cackle of his walkie-talkie. Carlos Roman, who has served as a police detective with the New Haven Police Department for 20 years, seems not to notice the noisemaker attached to his belt as he collects his tin foil-wrapped sub. He and his colleagues come to the store nearly every day.

12:30 p.m.

Beyond the buffet and in front of the drink section sit the stairs to the upper floor of tables and chairs. Up here, the view feels unnatural. The backsides of the hanging lights and the tops of cereal boxes reveal themselves, the vents traverse the ceiling at eye-level, and self-absorbed shoppers waffle between different items without noticing the overlooking tables above. For one young man wearing a Trumbull College fleece, the choice between drinks seems especially tough. He stares at a Sprite for around 30 seconds until deciding to return it to the refrigerator and continue his search. As he paces up and down the aisle, past the smoothies, sparkling water, juices, and then back by the smoothies, the rising cadence of Katy Perry’s “Firework” only intensifies the drama, until he finally snatches a blue Gatorade. If any part of the store is most like “heaven,” it would have to be this balcony that gazes down upon shoppers as they make critical choices, between Sprite and Gatorade or cheddar and Swiss.

6:30 p.m.

On the upper floor, everyone is absorbed in something. The hunched body of one woman with a tight ponytail and buttoned sweater is directed at the course packet on her table. Behind her sits a man with a different focus: his turkey sub. His eyes do not leave his dinner until he washes down the last bite with a green tea.

10:03 p.m.

Scores of students approach the deli to collect late-night snacks. Many swing open the front door with a plan in mind — they have done this before. They stride directly to the deli, barely slowing to quickly say, “egg and cheese, please,” as they continue to the drink section. Some of these ever-efficient students choose their drinks just in time to swing by the deli as the final strip of tin foil is wrapped around their sandwiches.

11:47 p.m.

At the tables upstairs, students peruse their books and spread their notes across the tables. Some have a long night ahead of them. Armed with a laptop, pink headphones, and a Diet Coke, Helen Rankin GRD ’15 says she comes to Gourmet Heaven when she knows she will have to spend all night studying. Tomorrow she has her qualifying exam.

2:10 a.m.

Toad’s Place, the dance club just down the street, ends its Wednesday night parties at 2:00 a.m. Two words to describe the “post-Toad’s crowd” are “drunk” and “loud,” according to one student who said he has been both a member and observer of groups that wander from the dance floor to the balcony of Gourmet Heaven. On this night, a shooting at Toad’s ended the party early, but the night still brings its share of partiers to the store. A collection of eight boys stakes out a corner of the balcony, where their banter ranges from topics such as senior societies to movie stars. Some of the studying students lift their eyes from their problem sets in annoyance, but most seem bemused by the inebriated characters in the corner. “I may be somewhat brown-out,” one of the partiers shouts matter-of-factly to his friends, “but certainly not blackout.”

With that, they depart, leaving only the murmur of the radio and the sound of pencil on paper.

6:42 a.m.

Another day begins as sunlight again streams through the glass. But the “beginning” of a day at Gourmet Heaven is difficult to pin down. Does it begin when New Haven’s professionals pass through for their breakfasts, when the lunchtime rush comes, when students start their all-nighters, or when the “post-Toad’s crowd” stumbles in? Though the beginning of a day is hard to identify, what’s clear is that it never ends.

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