YuLin Zhen, Contributing Photographer

Nestled in the heart of Yale’s campus, an old-favorite arepa joint has made its return as a brick-and-mortar restaurant. 

Ay! Arepa, once a well-known food truck, opened its first physical location on July 7 of this year. The restaurant is located beside the Shops at Yale, at the former site of Bulldog Hotdogs. Owner Ernesto Garcia — who also owns the Latin American fusion restaurant Rubamba — told the News that he had his eyes set on the highly coveted strip of land in the middle of the city since he opened his first food truck 11 years ago.  

“We used to have a food truck on Broadway between 2012 and 2016,” Garcia said. “Since we were there, the cart was pretty popular and students were very excited. The city made some changes in 2016 which forced us to move. Now, after seven years, we are coming back to Broadway.”

In 2016, New Haven raised the licensing fee for food trucks from $450 to $5,100 a year.

Although Garcia had been in the food industry since 2008 and had owned several food trucks, his businesses took a hit during the pandemic, leaving the chef and entrepreneur with just one food truck, Ay! Arepa, in front of the Yale School of Medicine. 

But the pandemic did not stop Garcia from pursuing his dreams of opening an Ay! Arepa storefront location in addition to the food truck, which still operates today.

“So far, so good,” Garcia said of the move onto Broadway. “The area is great. The location is great. The store is great. The community is great. I can’t complain.” 

Arepas are a staple street food in South America, particularly in Colombia and Venezuela. The cornmeal cakes are often stuffed and topped with meats, cheeses, vegetables, and a variety of sauces. Ay! Arepa is not just cooking up this staple, though — the location offers a wide variety of Latin American foods, such as burritos, quesadillas, empanadas and even fresh churros. Yale students can receive a 10 percent discount on meals by showing their school-issued identification card. 

Taina Hilario, a New Haven resident, was holding a bag of fresh churros as she shared her excitement about the opening of Ay! Arepa. Hilario said she is “a big fan” of the truck on Cedar Street. 

“I’m definitely going to come back and try more food,” Hilario said. 

Prior to Ay! Arepa’s arrival on Broadway, Bulldog Hotdogs occupied the same kiosk. The popular hot dog joint abruptly closed its doors after just two years in business, leaving some in the Yale community devastated.

Ava Saylor ’24, a former WKND editor for the News, told the News that she felt the weight of Bulldog Hotdog’s departure.

“The day I saw that Bulldog Hotdogs was not there anymore, it was the worst day of my life,” Saylor said.

Saylor’s love for hotdogs left her questioning where she would be able to satisfy her cravings without breaking the bank. 

Garcia said that he got a good deal on the rent. He also reported having a good conversation with the owners of Bulldogs Hotdogs about the transition. He told the News that Bulldog Hotdogs wanted to leave, making the swap mutually beneficial, per Garcia.

Bulldog Hotdogs did not respond to a request for comment. 

Garcia, known informally as the “Arepa Master,” is also the owner of Rubamaba, a popular Latin American restaurant at 25 High St. that opened in 2012. He often splits his time between Ay! Arepa and Rubamba and enjoys being able to share both his talent and culture with Yalies and the residents of New Haven. 

Ay! Arepa is located at 56 Broadway and is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.