The aromas of Lebanese cuisine, buffalo wings and pizza will waft through the first floor as hookah smoke drifts through the second in a new venue opening on Church Street in late May.
Co-owners of the venue, which has not yet been named, Hosam Afifi and Charbel Eid signed a lease early last week for the two-story space at 27-33 Church St. On the roughly 7,500-square-foot first floor, they plan to create an indoor food hall — an open space housing a variety of vendors — with offerings including wings, fast casual Lebanese fare and coffee. Wanting to incorporate their experience running a Bridgeport franchise of Wing it On!, Eid and Afifi sought to sell buffalo wings alongside ethnic Lebanese cuisine. The smaller second floor will be home to a “high-end and contemporary” hookah lounge that Eid hopes will be brighter and cleaner than many others.
“We’re hoping to do something nice and something that does not exist already,” Eid said. “We want the hookah lounge to be very nice, high-end and comfortable so that you can come with your family.”
Due to Connecticut state law regulating vapor sales, the hookah lounge will be open only to registered members who have proven they are older than 18,said James Perito, Afifi and Eid’s attorney. He added that Eid and Afifi will not seek a liquor license.
The project began six months ago when Eid and Afifi approached several city departments to discuss the possibility of opening a restaurant serving dine-in and fast-casual Lebanese food. After reviewing building codes with city officials and seeing the boom of food halls in New York City, the two settled on their current plans.
The venue’s Mediterranean offerings will add to the many establishments serving similar cuisine in downtown New Haven. Pitaziki, Istanbul Cafe and Mediterranea are all located within a few blocks of the incoming venue. But the hookah lounge will be only the second in downtown New Haven. Mediterranea — both a restaurant and hookah lounge — opened in 1999.
Mediterranea owner Omar Rajeh said hookah became a popular trend in New Haven in the early 2000s. But traffic to his hookah lounge has since slowed because many smokers have bought their own apparatuses, Rajeh said.
Like Mediterranea, the new venue will offer traditional tobacco-based hookah, unlike new electronic hookah that is popular among people who use vaporizers, said David Barton, owner of The Glass Cloud — a hookah bar on 819 Chapel St. that offers only electronic hookah. The two different types target two different crowds, Barton said.
“I’m definitely out of the equation,” Barton said regarding the new venue’s hookah market. “This is a vape lounge. I have six hookah rentals that have electronic hookah tops to them. It is really just tailored to the niche of the vape industry to people who really want to vape through a hookah.”
Construction will begin in February, aiming to open in late May, Eid said.