Around 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday evening, a man wearing a medical mask entered Mamoun’s Falafel Restaurant and asked what sandwiches they had.
But after an employee recommended a sandwich, the man took out a handgun and pointed it at the employee, demanding money from the cash register. According to Mamoun’s owner, Suleiman Chater, the employee bluffed that the restaurant did not have any cash — regardless, the man pushed his way to the counter and escaped with the money.
“I don’t know what to make out of it,” Chater told the News. “Things happen. Maybe it’s desperate times.”
Mamoun’s first opened its doors in Greenwich Village, 1971 — making it the oldest falafel restaurant in New York City, according to its website. Mamoun Chater, an immigrant from Syria, brought the restaurant to New Haven in 1977, where it is now run by his nephew Suleiman. Mamoun’s is located on 85 Howe St., one block away from Pierson and Davenport colleges.
The establishment is well known for its Middle Eastern fare, such as shawarma, hummus, kebabs and falafel, as well as its hookah pipes. The sign outside the door famously claims that the restaurant is open 365 days a year from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m., making it a popular late-night destination for college students.
“Ending up in the warm confines of Mamoun’s is as much a staple of a night out as it is a comforting thing to do in the middle of the week,” Arinjay Singhai ’22 told the News. “The environment is welcoming, the food is authentic, and the people who work there are kind, hardworking members of the New Haven community. I think the recent incident is shameful, but above all, it is a sad indictment of the times.”
According to a public safety advisory from the Yale Police Department, the unidentified perpetrator fled the scene in a black Saab travelling towards Elm Street. The YPD investigation is currently ongoing.
Chater told the News that, while he understands the pandemic has created unexpected hardship for many, Mamoun’s has been giving out food for free consistently during the COVID-19 pandemic and is endeavoring to help neighbours in whatever ways possible.
“If anyone needs a deal on food, they can just ask for it,” Chater said. “They don’t have to rob us.”
Chater suspected that the incident — the likes of which Mamoun’s has never seen before — was linked to the vacant streets as a result of COVID-19 lockdown orders. As New Haven has grown increasingly devoid of regular activity outdoors, the city has seen multiple criminal incidents.
In another recent restaurant robbery, Louis Angel Ortiz, a 42-year-old New Haven resident burgled Soul de Cuba Cafe on Crown Street. While the restaurant was shuttered, Ortiz was captured on video security footage helping himself to the food and alcohol that was stored in the restaurant. For four days, Ortiz stockpiled beverages and property from the building, including 70 bottles of stolen liquor.
Ortiz was discovered asleep in the restaurant by Soul de Cuba management during a routine check, according to a press release from New Haven Police Department spokesperson Anthony Duff. The damages are estimated to be several thousand dollars.
Early this month, a Yale rabbi was assaulted and robbed on Lynwood St. Two weeks later, according to Duff, a Westville synagogue was vandalized by pellets from a BB gun, causing damage to its exterior window panes.
On Sunday, a car was stolen on Chapel St. carrying a 2-year-old child inside it. Both the child and the vehicle were recovered by the end of the day by NHPD officers, Duff said. The NHPD is also currently investigating a shooting incident over the weekend after a man arrived at Yale New Haven Hospital early Sunday morning with a gunshot wound to the hand. The man claims the injury was due to an altercation with someone who had attempted to rob him.
Omar Chishti ’22, who is currently living in Branford College, told the News that he was experiencing a perceptible rise in tension on campus.
“I definitely feel like people have been more worried, and that there are more incidents happening,” Chishti said. “I think there’s been a higher frequency of break-ins and on-campus trespassing that I hear about from my friends. Even within the Yale bubble, I don’t think people are feeling as safe as they used to.”
While Yale Security is still patrolling campus, Chishti said that venturing outside the University’s immediate bounds was sometimes unavoidable — to go to CVS or Stop & Shop.
During the typical academic year, safety advisories from YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins have consistently urged students to walk in groups at night and avoid being on the streets alone. However, Chishti said, COVID-19 has rendered isolation the new recommendation — leaving him to feel more vulnerable outside in the Elm City.
The Yale Police Department is located at 101 Ashmun St.
Meera Shoaib | firstname.lastname@example.org