Brian Zhang, Contributing Photographer

Daunting media statistics of business failures during the pandemic were not enough to deter one New Havener from opening up a new local coffee shop, which may have coffee beans ground — and adding a hint of pumpkin spice to it. 

On Thursday afternoon, Chidi Onukwugha hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for his local coffee shop, Kaiyden’s. The event featured a brief foreword from New Haven mayor Justin Elicker and other city leaders, who all commended the resilience of small business owners amid global economic hardship.  

“What we learned coming here … is that it’s the passion behind the business — the craft, the real personal connection — that makes a special place for people to go,” said Michael Piscitelli, New Haven Economic Development Administrator. 

The shop, located at 595 Chapel St. in Wooster Square, first opened to the public in late September. It is the first locally-owned coffee shop in the neighborhood since Wooster Square Coffee closed in June 2020. In addition to traditional coffee and tea beverages, its menu offers a variety of fresh desserts and pastry goods, which customers can enjoy in a small cafe section facing the street. 

Thursday’s ceremony was more than a celebration of the little coffee shop quirks, however. It restored a sense of community and togetherness in Wooster, attracting a crowd of neighborhood residents who participated in the ribbon-cutting alongside Onukwugha’s family and friends.

Piscitelli explained that Kaiyden’s was one of approximately 50 local businesses that started in New Haven during the pandemic. 

At the height of the health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to either shut down completely or rely on state assistance to stay open. Cafes lost both revenue and business as a result of social distancing policies. 

Essential to the grit of small businesses like Kaiyden’s, according to Elicker, are not only those “that are willing … to take a risk opening the shops but also … [the] people that are willing to support local businesses.

A New Haven resident of more than 40 years, Onukwugha attributes his entrepreneurial journey to being an avid coffee drinker as a young man. Kaiyden’s story began in October of last year when, in the midst of the pandemic, Onukwugha began looking for a location to launch the business. He resumed his search after receiving his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. He started to foster relationships with local retailers, caterers and other businesses to gather resources for his soon-to-open coffee shop. 

At the ribbon cutting ceremony, Onukwugha encouraged business owners and consumers alike to keep transactions local. From the business end, “the service is a lot better, it’s a lot more personable, [and] it’s more focused on the community,” he said. On the consumer end, customers can trust that the goods and ingredients they purchase are sourced locally, therefore keeping money in the community. At Kaiyden’s, all coffee and tea products are sourced in Connecticut and New Haven, respectively.

To Onukwugha, who is also a social worker, Kaiyden’s is more than a coffee shop — it is a commitment to the people and relationships of Wooster Square. He plans to implement an online-ordering option, showcase works from local artists and potentially create more parking space for customers. According to Onukwugha, promoting a sense of community is a priority for the business — a philosophy reflected in the shop’s name. Kaiyden’s is named after Onukwugha’s grandniece, who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony. She has lived with him since she was only a few months old, bringing joy into his life. Onukwugha said that he hopes that these values of family and care will resonate in the way customers interact with each other at the shop.  

The staff is always thinking of “ways … to be more effective [to] meet the needs of the community,” he said.

Kaiyden’s is open 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m on Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m on Sundays.

Brian Zhang is Arts editor of the Yale Daily News and the third-year class president at Yale. Previously, he covered student life for the University desk. His writing can also be found in Insider Magazine, The Sacramento Bee, BrainPOP, New York Family and uInterview. Follow @briansnotebook on Instagram for more!