Khuan-Yu, Hall Contributing Photographer

Sandra’s Next Generation, which was recently named the 56th best restaurant in the United States by Yelp, is facing a freeze on its refrigeration system after concerns about its legality and effect on the surrounding environment. 

Five refrigerated storage containers used by the renowned soul food restaurant Sandra’s Next Generation were the subjects of scrutiny at a Board of Zoning Appeals meeting on Jan. 17. Owners Sandra and Miguel Pittman came to the meeting seeking approval for the fridges to be kept on the lot behind Sandra’s on Arch St., although that lot is zoned for residential, not commercial, use. The Pittmans said that the extra storage was necessary to keep up with the increased demand for their restaurant. 

During the meeting, Ward 4 Alder Evelyn Rodriguez and other residents of Arch St. argued with the Pittmans and other New Haven residents, claiming that the fridges should not receive an exemption because of harm caused to the neighborhood. Ultimately, the BZA voted 2-2, meaning that Sandra’s was denied approval to keep storage containers on the Arch St. lot.

“It’s all up to you,” Miguel Pittman said. “No one can hinder you. They might slow you down in some cases, like what Evelyn Rodriguez is doing, but she’s not going to stop us. ”

Sandra’s opened its doors in 1989 and has since become nationally renowned for its soul food. While most restaurants struggled during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sandra’s was able to quickly pivot to a take-out only model, tripling their business and even hiring more workers in order to keep up with the increased demand. To accommodate for the new upsurge in business, the Pittmans also invested in extra storage: five refrigerated storage containers from, that sit behind Sandra’s.

According to Miguel Pittman, it is because of the amount of inventory that the containers can hold that Sandra’s is able to serve 300 to 600 meals a day. The containers also allow Sandra’s to save on the costs of ingredients by buying in bulk and avoid taking items off the menu due to ingredient shortages. 

He worried that not being able to house the containers on the lot would force him to make more trips to the store and buy in smaller quantities at higher unit prices, meaning that Sandra’s would face higher operating costs. 

“It might affect my bottom line a little bit, and if it does, unfortunately, I’m gonna have to lay some people off because I’m not able to conduct business,” Miguel Pittman said. “We have some employees that have certain commitments to their family, they have mortgages, they have kids in college, they have vehicles that they own, and unfortunately, if this whole piece doesn’t work out, they are going to be affected … We might have to move, which we don’t want to do.”

During the meeting, the Hill North Community Management Team submitted a petition in support of the exemption with over 200 signatures from residents in the community, including some who live on Arch St.. 

After receiving this decision from the BZA, the Pittmans told the News that they are in the process of appealing the decision. According to Miguel Pittman, although the lot is technically zoned only for residential purposes, because of its size, it is too small to use for any sort of residence. Rodriguez, he said, is personally invested in the location of the restaurant’s fridges.

“Evelyn Rodriguez owns a property behind Sandra’s Next Generation,” Miguel Pittman said. “She put in a request and made some phone calls, saying that she doesn’t like those containers, that those containers are taking away from the neighborhood, even though we provide 26 jobs for people in our community … She’s gonna use her political power to fight against us, even though those containers are within the structure of our property.”

Miguel Pittman also questioned Rodriguez’s concern that the containers were attracting rodents to the neighborhood. He noted that there were rodents throughout the city, adding that he did not see how animals could be attracted to the metal containers since they would be unable to penetrate the material. 

For Rodriguez, opposing the refrigeration units was a matter of upholding the law and representing her constituents. She said she received complaints from 25 residents living in close proximity to the fridges.

According to Rodriguez, despite being informed for several years that they were required to remove the containers, the Pittmans instead increased the number of containers on the lot from one to five and then requested a zoning change, “as if they had no containers and a violation was not occurring simultaneously”.

Rodriguez said the lot on which the containers now sit was intended to be used to plant grass and shrubs, but now is an eye sore. She described trash around the containers, which she said gives the neighborhood an unattractive appearance and can also affect the value of homes. 

“Neighbors were concerned,” Rodriguez told the News. “Food attracts animals. Despite the normal infest control, the problem continues and has increased. During the past year, we saw more skunks, raccoons, possums, mosquitos, flies and bees.”

For Rodriguez, concerns surrounding Sandra’s also point to a larger question of sustainable economic development. According to Rodriguez, as New Haven’s population grows, so does the demand for new products and stores. However, there is also a need to balance growth with preserving New Haven’s neighborhoods and protecting city residents.

Rogriguez also questioned whether Sandra’s, as a nationally renowned restaurant, is still suited to a location that was originally intended for a small business. 

“Sandra’s Next Generation is vibrant and its family has many wonderful ideas, and they are working at them,” Rodriguez told the News. “Use the location for smaller ideas. The restaurant may need to consider a bigger place.”

Unrelated to the zoning issues stemming from their refrigeration units, the Pittmans have been looking into opening another location in New Haven. According to Sandra Pittman, the new store will likely open within the next two years. Currently, the Pittmans are looking at locations on either Dixwell Ave., as part of the Q House, or Davenport Ave. 

The Pittmans described a long-term ambition to open a much larger dining hall that could seat 200 to 300 diners. Although Miguel Pittman said they would likely shift most of their resources and attention to this new location, he said that they plan to keep the Congress St. location and might turn it into a spin-off, offering a fusion of soul food and other cuisines.  

Since its founding, Sandra’s has become a pillar of the Hill North neighborhood. They host community events such as a back-to-school drive and  Halloween trick-or-treating. They also give out free meals during Thanksgiving and Christmas, providing nearly 1000 meals last Thanksgiving, according to Miguel Pittman. 

“I’m looking forward to Sandra’s Next Generation’s next generation, which is for my four children,” Sandra Pittman said. “We’ve worked very hard throughout the year to get our children prepared for the next generation … I’m looking forward to working very closely and working really close with him now.” 

Sandra’s Next Generation is located at 630 Congress St.

Khuan-Yu Hall is the City Editor at the News. He is a sophomore in Davenport, from Hartland, Vermont, double majoring in Statistics and Data Science and Ethics, Politics, and Economics.