by | Sep 14, 2022 12:33 pm
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Posted to: The Hill, Food, Wooster Square
Thomas Breen photo
150 Wooster St: Former Tony & Lucille’s, future new Italian eatery.
Make way for gelato and cocktails on Wooster Street, empanadas on Spring Street, and truffles and cheeses and Neapolitan-style dishes near Broadway.
Those culinary ventures are each one big step closer to coming New Haven’s way, after winning requested land-use relief from the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA).
The BZA signed off on those food-focused applications Tuesday night during its latest regular monthly meeting, which took place online via Zoom.
While each vote focused on only a narrow, land-use-related part of these new businesses’ plans, each now-approved application offers a glimpse into how local and out-of-state foodies are looking to build upon the city’s restaurant scene, particularly in Wooster Square, the Hill, and the Broadway commercial district.
150 Wooster St.
One of those restaurant-enabling zoning relief approvals came in the form of a special exception to permit a full restaurant liquor license at 150 Wooster St.
That’s the site of the former long-time Wooster Square restaurant Tony & Lucille’s, which closed its doors in 2019.
On Tuesday night, local restaurateur Avi Szapiro explained that he and his business partner Tim Cabral plan on opening up a new Italian restaurant, bar, and market at that Wooster Street site. Szapiro previously ran the now-closed downtown restaurant Roìa; Cabral owns the popular Chapel Street bar Ordinary.
We believe that the renovation and preservation of use as a restaurant will continue to support the development of the neighborhood,” Szapiro wrote in his zoning relief application for a full restaurant liquor license at 150 Wooster St. We believe that by creating new jobs, and re-opening this iconic space will add to the vibrancy of the neighborhood and positively contribute to the community.”
Szapiro (bottom right) at Tuesday’s BZA meeting.
During Tuesday night’s zoning board meeting, Szapiro read a letter of support written by Wooster Square Alder Ellen Cupo. The letter states that the special exception will allow the new restaurant to serve beer, wine, spirits and cocktails.”
Reopening this site as a restaurant will be a positive and welcome addition to our neighborhood,” Cupo wrote, especially since the old Tony and Lucille’s building has sat vacant since the summer of 2019.
The only person to speak up during the public hearing portion of this application’s review was Marisa Spittal, who lives around the corner from the new restaurant on Brown Street.
She asked why the proposed gelato window” is facing Brown Street. Why couldn’t gelato be served out of a small area by the lefthand side” previously used by Tony and Lucille’s?
They used to serve coffee and small meals” at that spot, she remembered. Why could that not be used for that purpose?”
We chose the new location because we feel that it provides greater flow, both on physical traffic as well as vehicular traffic,” Szapiro replied. It made sense also economically for us, and it’s something that we can directly supply to our customers” without disrupting any back-of-the-house work.”
The commissioners then moved to unanimously approve the special exception with conditions.
86 Spring St.
Later on at Tuesday night’s meeting, the zoning commissioners voted unanimously in support of a use variance to allow for a take-out restaurant and commercial kitchen at 86 Spring St.
That’s where local food entrepreneur Hazel Lebron plans on opening up a new take-out spot focused on Afro-Latin American cuisine,” with a particular emphasis on empanadas.
This building was used as an extension to the Boys and Girls Club for many years, which is why there’s a commercial kitchen in there which is really hard built,” Lebron told the commissioners on Tuesday. It’s not just a simple kitchen. … We’re using everything that it’s in there.”
She said she’s won the support of a number of Hill neighbors as well as that of neighborhood Alder Kampton Signh.
There’s a lot of people really excited about an Afro-Latin American cuisine coming in,” she said.
Lebron at Tuesday’s BZA meeting.
Lebron said she was a food trucker prior to this,” having run an empanada food truck on Long Wharf and downtown. I have a huge clientele with Yale,” she said, and a dedicated group of local customers.
I’m excited for this as well,” Asylum Street resident Tony Davis said in support of the new empanada takeout restaurant during the public hearing portion of the meeting. I’m just excited being in the Hill section, and she seems excited. I’m happy for her as well, and I hope she does get the approval.”
Local attorney Ben Trachten, speaking up as just a member of the public, agreed. Ms. Lebron’s proposed use is fully compatible with other neighborhood convenience-type uses,” he said. This would permit the adaptive reuse of a space already existing and give opportunity to the neighborhood. … This would be a great business incubator. And good empanadas are hard to find.”
Lebron included in her zoning relief application a letter of support written on Aug. 10 by CitySeed Food Entrepreneurship Program Manager Cara Santino, who referred to the incoming Spring Street takeout restaurant as Caribe Soul.”
As the Food Entrepreneurship Manager of CitySeed, we see the development of this project as an opportunity that supports local economic development and the growth of women and Black-owned food businesses in our city, while additionally providing a site of healthy food access for residents of the Hill,” Santino wrote.
She continued: CitySeed sees the development of Caribe Soul as an opportunity to increase community food access, spur inclusive economic development, and promote the cultural heritage of many of the Hill’s lifelong residents.”
The final restaurant-related zoning approval granted by the BZA Tuesday night was a special exception to permit a full restaurant liquor license at 278 Park St.
That’s the site of the former Tarry Lodge restaurant at the heart of the Broadway commercial district.
New Canaan-based attorney Arthur Zinn appeared before the zoning board on behalf of the new restaurant looking to move into the former Tarry Lodge site.
That new restaurant is called Gran Gusto, a Cambridge, Mass.-based Italian eatery looking to expand to New Haven.
The Shops at Yale website describes Gran Gusto as authentic Italian dining in the heart of New Haven’s Broadway District. Everything on the menu, from the starters to the main dishes, are produced fresh daily, with more than 80% of the ingredients coming from Italy weekly including olive oil, flour, truffles, and a variety of cheeses for traditional, Neapolitan-style dishes. Their menu also includes an extensive wine selection.”
During his brief presentation to the BZA Tuesday night, Zinn said that the new restaurant needed zoning relief only because the state liquor license for Tarry Lodge had expired. Were it not for the expiration of the liquor license, we would have just been permitted to continue with the same use as the applicant is proposing to run a restaurant with the same [number of] seats as before,” he said. The applicant just wishes to run a different restaurant from Tarry Lodge, which was the prior operator’s restaurant.”
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I love that there will be a new Italian restaurant in the old Tony And Lucille’s location, and an Afro-Latin American empanadas restaurant in the Hill, but I really wish the old Tarry Lodge/Fitzwilly’s building was something other than another Italian restaurant.
We have a wonderful Wooster Square Little Italy community of restaurants and bakeries, we need more variety around town besides the fabulous wealth we already have of apizza and Italian cuisine restaurants to select from.
I’d love to see a restaurant that was featuring dishes from all of the Pan-Mediterranean countries cuisines
with Southern European, Middle Eastern and North African dishes. They have many similar types of dishes and a focus on fresh and in season ingredients and would be a huge hit with vegetarian, vegan and gluten free dishes offered. Those cuisines have something that would appeal to everyone.
New Haven residents and students have diverse, educated and adventurous palates, and with a surge in Middle Eastern and North African immigrants to our area, I’m sure a creative restauranteur could find chefs and other staff who are familiar with those cuisines and could introduce their home country favorite dishes to our community. IRIS would probably be a good partner for connecting would be immigrant chefs with the restaurant. Variety is the spice of life, and New Haven could use some more variety to add to its different types of cuisines.

Good luck to all three restaurants!

Zoning is necessary in urban areas. In its absence, people can do lawful things with their property that harms their neighbors. But New Haven's antiquated zoning ordinance is overly restrictive. There have been pizza places and restaurants serving alcohol on Wooster Street for decades. They are a large part of the reason that people visit Wooster Square.

For Mediterranean options try Kasbah Garden Cafe, a hidden gem on Howe Street with good choices that include vegetarian, vegan and meat-based choices. Prices are reasonable and the setting is a pleasure.

@Kevin McCarthy

Zoning is necessary for other reason too. It gives us something to think about all day and discuss endlessly. Thank you for being a resource and being available to all for a quick education on these esoteric topics. And posting prolifically here in terms everyone can understand. And always being right.

But please keep in mind that there are good people out there whose livelihood depends on those antiquated regulations so don’t advocate too hard for their end. Some minor revisions are great. But Special Exception review for alcohol related uses (maybe in new locations only) do serve a purpose. Although lately, many variance approvals related to alcohol have been appealed and the applicants will likely lose since the hardship standard is nearly impossible to meet. I’m all for changing the distance requirements and making those variance applications into Special Exceptions. But they shouldn’t be Special Permits going to the City Plan Commission. But that’s a whole other discussion.

In summary, thanks for being you, and doing what you do, and your service in your prior employment. You are an irreplaceable resource.

Ben Trachten: 🙂
Resident reports pothole on Wilmot Road and Wintergreen Ave
Please acknowledge the need to service the medians on Whalley btw…
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