In the hyper-competitive world of commerce on Broadway, the stakes are especially high for eateries with similar offerings, such as Tex-Mex staples Salsa Fresca and Tomatillo.
Tomatillo announced last month that it had extended its Thursday night hours from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. and weekend hours to 3 a.m. — hours that match up with those of Salsa Fresca, which closes at 3 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Salsa Fresca opened its doors on 51 Broadway last May and joined Tomatillo, which opened on 320 Elm St. in June 2012, in providing Tex-Mex service-line food in the shopping district.
Though Tomatillo’s new late-night hours match those at the recently opened Salsa Fresca and Junzi Kitchen across the street, Tomatillo owner Moe Gad said his restaurant was not reacting to the new competition. Gad said he decided to extend hours this year in response to student requests.
“About six weeks ago we began to do [late hours] again,” Gad said. “There was a need for it and students were asking why we weren’t open late because a lot of the students prefer our food to food across the street.”
During February, Salsa Fresca also made changes to attract more student patrons. That month, the eatery began offering an entree, drink and side for $5. The offer is still available, but no longer late at night, as of the start of March. Of 24 students interviewed, roughly half said they have gone to Salsa Fresca during the past month because of the deal.
Griffin Smilow ’18 said while he ventured to Salsa Fresca during February for the deal, in the future he will exclusively visit Tomatillo for its taste and proximity to Pierson, his residential college.
“For the last month I’ve been going to Salsa Fresca solely for the $5 deals,” Smilow said. “Now that leap day has passed, I will no longer be making [my] way across Broadway to get my burrito bowls.”
In the past several years, New Haven has seen an influx of service-line foods, including Chipotle, Tikkaway and Pitaziki. Meanwhile, the opening and subsequent closing of several frozen yogurt shops in Downtown raised questions over whether sufficient demand exists in New Haven to sustain more than a few of certain niche restaurants.
Kosta Vastakis — the owner of the Educated Burgher, which was open in Salsa Fresca’s current location for 37 years before closing in 2014 — said the increase in restaurants and shops downtown made business difficult during his last year on Broadway.
Though Salsa Fresca and Tomatillo are close in proximity with each other, they seem to benefit from sufficient student demand. Of the students interviewed, roughly three-quarters said each eatery offers unique choices and have added welcome variety to their consumption patterns.
Like Gad, Renee Breer ’16 said students had asked for Tomatillo to offer late night hours like Salsa Fresca. She said she and many other students often buy food late into the night during the weekends because of schoolwork or social events. Breer would rather spend $10 at Tomatillo than at the nearby Good Nature Market, she said.
“I’ve been here for three years and [Tomatillo is] where we have been going for three and a half years,” Breer said. “It’s where all of the memories are.”
Tomatillo opened in June 2012.