Karen Lin, photo editor
Local restaurants have expressed mixed reactions to Yale’s restrictions on off-campus dining and have reported feelings of understanding, loss and frustration at the changes in business.
In a Jan. 4 email to Yale College students, Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd announced a campus-wide quarantine through Feb. 7 in response to rising COVID-19 cases at Yale and in New Haven . Students are being asked to “avoid local shops, restaurants and bars, including drinking or eating al fresco” and instead use curbside pickup and delivery options. These policies have since made headlines, which led to debate about the university’s authority to regulate student interactions with the broader New Haven community. Meanwhile, some restaurants and businesses near campus have felt the economic impact, while others support Yale’s decision.
“We understand that they’re trying to do whatever it takes to keep people safe,” said Caterina Passoni ’18, Havenly’s co-founder and head of development. “But for us as a small company, it’s a really tough time.”
Some companies, like Havenly and Claire’s Corner Copia, see the impact of the regulations as a continuation of slower business typically seen during university winter breaks. This year’s break was a week longer than originally planned because Yale delayed the start of the semester to slow the return of students to campus.
Claire’s, which has operated on Chapel Street for 46 years, takes action each year to “save all summer in anticipation of slower business hours,” owner Claire Criscuolo said. According to her, Claire’s did not have to lay off employees or cut shift times.
Other companies didn’t weather the storm quite so smoothly. Passoni said that following Yale’s decision, Havenly reduced hours. Because Havenly employs mostly refugee women in New Haven, the reduction in hours worked has impacted the time spent training currently unemployed community members.
Despite the economic uncertainty some businesses are facing, Garrett Sheehan, President and CEO of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, or GNHCC, expressed his support for Yale’s policies because the regulations aim to protect students who support local businesses to keep on campus. He noted that while the university’s rules have raised concerns and confusion for some businesses, Yale has reassured the GNHCC that the restrictions still allow undergraduate students to connect with local businesses through pickup and delivery options .
“That’s another misconception that needs to be cleared — still encourage these students to visit your restaurants in terms of pickup and delivery,” Sheehan said in reference to local businesses. “These avenues are still open to them. To the extent that they promote this group, they should continue to do so as there is no limit to them.”
Although Sheehan reported that Yale and the GNHCC have been in touch, others have expressed frustration with Yale’s lack of communication with local businesses.
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. Sherkaan Indian Street Food operations manager Naitza Diaz expressed disappointment with the wording of the announcement, saying, “It didn’t sound like they had any interest in how the restaurants were doing.”
Diaz noted that the restrictions have had a negative impact on business at Sherkaan as indoor dining has “taken a hit”.
“We as a restaurant can still offer a lot of take-out and we’re finding ways to give the wait staff who can’t get as many tables other options to make it worth being here – whether it’s giving them the most tips on what to do.” Giving takeaways or helping them with that — to give them an opportunity to make some money,” Diaz said.
Still, Diaz believes Sherkaan has been relatively lucky compared to other companies that have been hit harder by the restrictions. Passoni said she’s seen Havenly almost empty since the announcement, save for one or two customers a day. Havenly, like a number of other restaurants near campus, counts Yale students as a large portion of their customers.
“I would hope that people could at least order through Snackpass or Uber Eats or something, but it’s definitely very difficult right now,” Passoni said.
Addressing Yale students, Marvin Chun, dean of Yale College, wrote that student life regulations are designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amid the rise of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Local restaurants, meanwhile, have taken measures to ensure the safety of staff and customers. Havenly staff individually bag all groceries and are tested for COVID-19 twice a week. In addition to staff testing and mask requirements, Sherkaan is constantly sanitizing dining areas, using indoor partitions, and encouraging outdoor seating when weather permits.
Criscuolo, a former nurse, helped install a number of security 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 she misses seeing students at the restaurant and has seen fewer shops this month, she supports Yale’s policies to curb the spread of the virus.
“It’s important that we’re all here 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 do 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 support from the city and the Connecticut Restaurant Association, both of which recently met business owners to discuss how to manage their pandemic battles.
Havenly is located at 25 Temple St.