NEW HAVEN — Three downtown eateries and one on Wooster Street will be able to keep their pandemic-era outdoor dining patios despite the fact that their permits were only good through Nov. 15, 2022, city officials said after an inspector previously ordered them to take the patios down.
The order last week by a city Department of Parks and Public Works inspector applied to downtown eateries Choupette Crêperie & Cafè on Whitney Avenue, Koffee on Audubon Street and Atelier Florian on Chapel Street, as well as to Zeneli Pizzeria e Cucina Napoletana on Wooster Street, the only restaurants that didn’t take down their patios by Nov. 15.
They could have been fined $250 a day for continuing to have patio dining areas that take up city parking spaces and conceivably could interfere with snow removal.
But city spokesman Lenny Speiller said they won’t be fined and the patios can stay., because City Hall officials believe the patios and the outdoor ambiance and additional capacity they bring are good for the city.
“I think our perspective is, outdoor dining has been a great thing for customers and restaurants and the city at large,” Speiller said. Their use “began under the pandemic as a way to increase dining options for residents. … It’s added a lot of new vibrancy to a lot of our streets, so it’s a program and we want to continue and support.
That said, “there are some issues around ADA compliance and snow removal that we need to address … so we’re going to be taking a look at the protocols and following-up with businesses” about any changes that might need to be made, he said.
According to the permits the eateries received, “the season is April 15 to Nov. 15,” Speiller said. “All other restaurants complied with breaking them down,” but “there were a handful of restaurants that did not.”
While the four restaurants were cited last week, “given that it’s late in the season and six weeks away from the new permitting season, we want to work with these restaurants … so that we can safely clean and plow the streets” and they can continue to invite patrons to sit outside if they so choose, Speiller said.
At Zeneli, that was good news. Brothers Gazmir and Jeshar Zeneli were relieved to know they won’t have to dismantle their rather solid-looking, fully covered and partially enclosed outdoor patio, which takes up several parking spaces in front of the restaurant at 138 Wooster St.
Gazmir Zeneli, one of three Albanian-born, Naples-raised brothers who own Zeneli’s, attributed the order that initially made them worry they would have to remove the patio only to put it back up on or after April 15, to “confusion.”
“I know we had Nov. 15 to remove it, but we were expecting a letter from the city to remove it,” Gazmir Zeneli said. No letter or notice ever came, so they left it up, he said.
He said he has no hard feelings. “We don’t have nothing against the city,” Gazmir Zeneli said. “They’ve supported us all this time.”
But “it’s nothing bad for the city to have extra options,” Zeneli said.
And even in the dead of winter especially this year’s mild winter the patio has been getting plenty of use, he said. “If you come tonight, you’re going to see it full,” Zeneli said.
Over at 24 Whitney Ave., Choupette owner Adil Chokairy already had begun to clear the tables and most of the chairs from his dining patio when he got the good news Thursday.
“Obviously, it’s a relief,” especially since “we are about to enter springtime” and would be putting the patio back up soon after they took it down, said Chokairy, a native of France who opened Choupette nine years ago as a mobile food cart. “We’re truly thankful.”
While the outdoor patios may have begun as a lifeline at a time during the pre-vaccination days when many people were afraid to go out to eat indoors, “now it’s become a staple,” he said.
Back at Zeneli, longtime New Haven and Wooster Street restaurant icon Tony Sacco, who with his late wife ran Tony & Lucille’s for half a century, thought the city did the right thing.
“COVID is still out there and people want to sit outside,” Sacco said while having lunch Friday afternoon with family members.
“Me, I think it’s beautiful,” Sacco said of Zeneli’s outdoor dining patio. “It’s so beautiful that everybody wants to sit outside.”