Deniz Saip

After a year of swimming with the sharks in the New Haven restaurant scene, one fish  has come away thriving.

Barracuda, a small bar and bistro on the corner of Park and Chapel streets, has been flourishing since the day owner Sonia Salazar opened the establishment in late November 2014. With its official anniversary celebration a week away, Barracuda has cemented itself as a Chapel West mainstay. But as Salazar looks back on her year in business, she takes the immediate success of her first business venture completely in stride.

“You never know [what will happen] when you open a restaurant,” Salazar said. “A restaurant is one of the most difficult businesses to maintain its consistency and its customers.”

Salazar immigrated to the United States from her native Colombia nearly 20 years ago with hopes of becoming a nurse. But after securing a job at a Hyatt Hotels restaurant in Stamford while a student, Salazar said she quickly realized her passion lay in the restaurant world.

Salazar has since worked in kitchens across Connecticut, from Morton’s Steakhouse to the Union League Café. And before long, she said, the concept of owning her own establishment became too enticing for her to ignore.

“[I wanted] just to have a fun restaurant where I could go out every night and play my Latin music and have a bunch of friends hanging out with me at the bar,” Salazar said.

Salazar opened Barracuda on Nov. 28, 2014, in the building formerly occupied by AVRO Kitchen and Bar. Almost instantly, Barracuda found itself popular among students at the Yale School of Drama, which is nearby. Salazar said she attributes much of the bistro’s initial success to those early patrons.

In fact, Barracuda was so doing so well in its early days that Salazar faced the unexpected challenge of managing the restaurant’s ever-expanding customer base. At the restaurant’s 2014 New Year’s Eve party, the line to enter Barracuda — then scarcely a month old — wrapped well outside the door, Salazar told the New Haven Independent. Barracuda was operating with just one bartender in January and February.

“I opened at a very, very difficult time of the year,” Salazar said. “People go away, people are busy during Christmas and Thanksgiving, so I was not expecting that for us. I was expecting just to be able to train people and train myself as a new owner. But, incredibly, it was the opposite.”

Barracuda is still a unique enterprise in the Elm City, just as it was in its early days. Its relatively compact size, three different happy hours and late closing time help bring new faces to the restaurant, patrons interviewed said.

“I’m excited [about finding Barracuda] because the only other late-night places are Mamoun’s and sometimes Louis’ Lunch,” Benjamin Hoffman MUS ’20, a first-time customer, said. “If you’re going out on a weekday night, there’s no [other] place to get food and grab a drink.”

The menu and drinks have maintained their distinct combination of Latin American and traditional American flairs that the bistro has held from the start. Salazar even has two staff members who have been with her since day one. 

That continuity, coupled with Salazar’s work ethic and hospitality, has kept customers coming back, patrons interviewed said.

“I’ve been [coming to Barracuda] since the first week it opened,” local resident Angelica Papastavros said. “The food is tremendous and it’s stayed tremendous. The service is unbelievable … Everything [has stayed consistent, and] I’ve seen more people coming in, which makes me very, very happy.”

Salazar said some change is in the pipeline for Barracuda — but added that she is keeping her ideas secret for now.

Of more immediate focus for her is the bistro’s first anniversary party, which will be hosted on Dec. 10. Already, close to 300 people have RSVPed to the event on Facebook.

“A lot of people are coming,” Salazar said. “And then we’re going to have a Cuban [music] group, we’re gonna have free appetizers, it’s just gonna go crazy.”

Barracuda stays open until 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and is open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.