For the past 20 years, the sidewalk of Temple Street between College and George streets was lined with darkened windows and the faded facade of the former Macy’s men’s store.
But during the past two years, a curious mix of activity took place on an otherwise deserted portion of the Temple Street parking garage, as piles of plywood, dust and construction apparatus slowly gave way to flashy signs and chic shops.
On a walking tour of the Temple Street area with local businessmen last Friday, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. surveyed the nearly $4 million worth of development that birthed restaurants such as the recently opened Diner 21; Kudeta, set to open this month; and Barcelona Restaurant and Wine Bar, scheduled to open this fall.
“There’s not a single building downtown that’s not either occupied or under construction,” DeStefano said.
DeStefano said the emphasis of the revitalization of Temple Street was to go storefront by storefront, expanding downtown New Haven toward Long Wharf Drive.
On the tour, DeStefano, accompanied by Dennis Nicotra of Olympia Properties and Ben Moss of Criterion Cinemas, noted the ongoing construction of the new restaurants and the coming expansion of Criterion Cinemas to seven screens.
In place of the original Macy’s men’s store, Kudeta, Diner 21 and Bella’s Downtown Market Cafe offer upscale dining options for a wide variety of customers, their owners say. Jean-Baptiste Ducruet, the designer of the pan-Asian restaurant Kudeta, said the restaurant features a modern design, including backlit geodes, a 1,500-square-foot kitchen, suspended butterflies and Asian fixtures.
“Every piece of this restaurant is a story,” Ducruet said.
Ken Luciani, co-owner of Diner 21, said he wanted his restaurant to have a classic American feel, and he said he thinks the patronage reflects that effort.
“It’s an upscale diner with a little flair, a little pop,” he said. “For lunch, we see a business crowd, and as the night progresses, it gets a little bit younger.”
Nicotra, who is behind Olympia Properties’ push for the renovations on Temple Street, said he is looking forward to the future openings of Barcelona and Cocina.
“Based on the two existing restaurants, they’re doing fantastic, and this will only add to it,” he said.
But some students said the attempt by Temple Street proprietors to target a more upscale crowd may discourage Yalies’ interest, and the distance is already a limiting factor.
“I don’t feel [they’re] going to have many students,” Alex Walker ’08 said. “It’s too expensive, and for someone who lives a few blocks away, there are nice places that are closer without going down to Temple or George.”
Criterion and Diner 21 have both enjoyed modest success since opening last year.