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December 29, 2021

Flurry of 2021 openings testifies to high hopes for New Haven restaurant scene

Photo | Michelle Tuccitto Sullo Local dignitaries join the Villa Lulu team in a ribbon-cutting ceremony. From left, David DelVecchio, director of marketing, Yale University Properties; Lauren Zucker, Yale associate vice president for New Haven affairs and university properties; co-owners Rafael Palomino and Moe Gad; Steve Fontana, New Haven deputy director, economic development; and Ward 1 Alder Eli Sabin.

With new restaurants opening on a regular basis, 2021 was a busy year for the New Haven food scene despite the pandemic’s ongoing battering of the retail and hospitality industry.

“Neighborhood businesses are holding their own even during the pandemic,” said Carlos Eyzaguirre, business development director at New Haven’s Economic Development Department. Surveys of local entrepreneurs have also shown optimism for 2022. “That is making us feel pretty good about the direction of these small businesses,” he added.

The city’s ongoing tally of activity found that  57 new retail and hospitality businesses opened in New Haven in 2021, and 28 closed. The higher number of openings reflects a healthy turnover and positive signs for the city’s economy, Eyzaguirre said. “That continues the trend we saw in 2020 but I think it’s even outpacing the trend.” 

Eyzaguirre said that city officials are heartened by the number of Black entrepreneurs opening new businesses. Among the new entrepreneurs: Jason Watts opened Jazzy’s Cabaret on Orange Street in October and James Cousins debuted Dangle’s Bar and Grill on Orange near City Hall this summer.

Other hopeful signs are established New Haven restaurateurs like Moe Gad opening new concepts. Gad, along with Executive Chef Rafael Palomino, cut the ribbon on upscale eatery Villa Lulu in September near their existing restaurant, Pacifico. 

Gad is slated to open the Dining Room in the former Roia space on College in 2022, and more new eateries from established players are anticipated for long-vacant storefronts on Crown Street and in Wooster Square in the coming months.  

Yale University Properties was also busy in 2021, filling vacancies in its Broadway business district adjacent to the Yale campus. Takeout concepts have predominated, with Bulldog Hotdogs serving up links from a kiosk on the “Broadway Island,” and Pedals Smoothie & Juice Bar offering healthy drinks and snacks at 284 York St.

Farther afield, entrepreneur Chidi Onukwugha launched Kaiyden’s coffee shop in September at 595 Chapel in the rapidly growing Wooster Square neighborhood. Also buzzing with new construction, the Audubon Street district saw the arrival of cafe and juice bar EVVO.

Wooster Square landmarks Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally’s also ramped up expansion plans in 2021, with Pepe's adding locations in Virginia, Maryland and Florida and Sally's opening its first Apizza outside of Wooster Square, a new restaurant that drew crowds for its October opening in downtown Stamford. 

As for trends, expect to see some outdoor dining areas stay open even during the winter months as pandemic precautions persist, Eyzaguirre said.

Contact Liese Klein at

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