Karen Lin, Photo Editor
Local restaurants have voiced mixed reactions to Yale’s restrictions on off-campus dining, reporting feelings of understanding, loss and frustration amid changes to business.
In a Jan. 4 email to Yale College students, Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd announced a campus-wide quarantine until Feb. 7 in response to the rise of COVID-19 cases at Yale and in New Haven. Undergraduates are asked to “avoid local businesses, restaurants, and bars, including outdoor drinking or dining,” and encouraged to use curbside pickup and delivery options instead. These guidelines have since made headlines, prompting debate over the University’s power to regulate students’ interactions with the broader New Haven community. Meanwhile, some restaurants and businesses near campus have felt an economic fallout, while others are supportive of Yale’s decision.
“We understand that they’re trying to do everything they can to keep people safe,” said Caterina Passoni ’18, co-founder and development director at Havenly. “But it’s a really hard time for us as a small business.”
Some businesses, like Havenly and Claire’s Corner Copia, view the impact of the regulations as a continuation of slower business typically seen during the University’s winter recess. This year’s break was a week longer than originally planned, with Yale delaying the semester’s start to slow the return of students to campus.
Claire’s, which has operated on Chapel Street for 46 years, takes measures every year to “save all summer” in anticipation of the slower business periods, owner Claire Criscuolo said. According to her, Claire’s has not needed to lay employees off or cut shift hours.
Other businesses have not been able to weather the storm quite as smoothly. Passoni said that Havenly has cut down staff hours following Yale’s decision. Because Havenly primarily employs refugee women in New Haven, the cuts to staff hours have impacted time spent training currently unemployed community members.
Despite the economic uncertainty faced by some businesses, Garrett Sheehan, president and CEO of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, or GNHCC, expressed his support for Yale’s policies, as the regulations aim to keep students who will support local businesses on campus. He noted that while the University’s rules have prompted concerns and confusion among some businesses, Yale has reassured the GNHCC that the restrictions still allow undergraduate students to engage with local businesses via pickup and delivery options.
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“That’s another misperception that’s got to be clear — still encourage those students to come frequent your restaurants, in terms of pickup and delivery,” Sheehan said regarding local businesses. “Those avenues are still open to them. To the extent that they advertise to that group, they should continue doing that because there’s no restriction on them to do so.”
Although Sheehan reported that Yale and the GNHCC have been in contact, others have expressed frustration over Yale’s lack of communication with local businesses themselves.
Passoni said the University is not doing enough to help city businesses during the quarantine, especially as Havenly struggles without federal or local financial relief. Naitza Diaz, operations manager of Sherkaan Indian Street Food, expressed her disappointment with the announcement’s wording, saying “it did not sound like they had any kind of interest in how the restaurants are doing.”
Diaz noted that the restrictions have had an adverse impact on business at Sherkaan, with indoor dining having “taken a hit.”
“We as a restaurant are still able to do a lot of takeout, and we’re finding ways to give the service staff, who are not able to get tables as much, other ways to make it worth their while to be here — whether it be giving them most of the takeout tips or having them help out with that — to give them an opportunity to make some money,” Diaz said.
Still, Diaz believes that Sherkaan has been relatively lucky compared to other businesses that have been hit harder by the restrictions. Passoni said that she has seen Havenly almost empty, aside from one or two customers daily, since the announcement was made. Havenly, like a number of other restaurants located near campus, count Yale students as a large proportion of their customers.
“I would hope that at least people could at least order via Snackpass or Uber Eats or something, but it’s definitely very difficult right now,” Passoni said.
Addressing Yale undergraduates, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun wrote that the regulations on student life are meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amid the rise of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Local restaurants, in the meantime, have taken measures to ensure the safety of staff and customers. Employees at Havenly individually package all food and are tested for COVID-19 twice weekly. In addition to employee testing and mask mandates, Sherkaan constantly sanitizes eating areas, uses partitions indoors and encourages outdoor seating when weather permits.
Criscuolo, a former nurse, helped to install a number of safety measures at Claire’s Corner Copia, including ion generators, HEPA filters and vents that circulate and decontaminate the air every few minutes. While Criscuolo said that she misses seeing students at the restaurant and has seen less business this month, she is supportive of Yale’s guidelines in the effort to reduce the spread of the virus.
“It’s important for all of us to be there for all of us, and we can do that by being as safe as possible,” Criscuolo said. “And Yale wouldn’t do this if they didn’t have the research to back it.”
Looking ahead, Criscuolo, Diaz and Passoni all expressed hope that business conditions would improve once the campus quarantine is lifted on Feb. 7. Diaz added that restaurants have received some vocal support from the city and Connecticut Restaurant Association, both of which recently met with business owners to discuss navigating their pandemic struggles.
Havenly is located at 25 Temple St.