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Posted to: Arts & Culture, Dining, Business/ Economic Development, Food, Immigrants, Wooster Square
Chidi Onukwugha, owner of Kaiyden’s Coffee, wanted to set the record straight.
“The first thing I need to do is answer the question: ‘Are you Kaiyden?’” he told a spirited group of 25 neighbors, family members, and elected officials gathered for a ribbon-cutting Thursday outside Kaiyden’s Coffee, the Wooster Square shop he has opened at 595 Chapel St.
“I am not Kaiyden,” said Onukwugha, 59, looking over at his 5-year-old grandniece, who was standing beside a giant pair of scissors, a sly grin on her face.
“She is everything I am not,” he said. “She is beautiful, and she has a coffee shop named after her where she can get whatever she wants without having to pay for it.”
Kaiyden’s offers traditional and specialty coffee with a focus on premium beans, which are sourced and roasted by Newington’s Saccuzzo Coffee Company, as well as an assortment of locally produced desserts.
By all indications, it’s a welcome addition to the neighborhood — and not just because the area has been caffeine-deprived since Wooster Square Coffee closed down last year.
“It’s great for me,” said upstairs neighbor Blythe Bynum, who was ordering a dark roast coffee amid lively music in the mellow light of the space. “It’s convenient, obviously, and everything is local, and the coffee is amazing.”
Onukwugha said he arrived in New Haven from Nigeria in the 1980s as a college student at Southern Connecticut State College. “I was intent on getting a degree and then traveling and moving on, and I’ve never left,” he said.
Having worked in social services, he said, he started to consider opening a business a few years ago. “I’ve been here for over 35 years, which made New Haven my home. So naturally I wanted to give back to a city that has meant a lot to me, so it made the most sense to do it here,” he said.
From the time he put up a “Coming Soon” sign, he said, “we have felt at home in this neighborhood, and everyone that I’ve met in the Wooster Square community has been warm and welcoming.”
His plans include adding more local products (he currently gets his baked goods from Bread & Chocolate in Hamden); finding a local farm for the shop’s dairy products; and showcasing the work of local artists on the walls of his shop.
At Thursday’s ribbon-cutting, city economic development chief Michael Piscitelli (pictured) congratulated Onukwugha for creating “one of 50 new businesses that have opened in New Haven” in 2021.
He contrasted the resurgence of local businesses with the slower recovery of the downtown office market. “What we’ve learned is that it’s the passion behind these businesses, the craft, the personal connection, that makes them special places for people to go,” he said.
“I’ve been at ribbon cutting after ribbon cutting over the past 22 months, and that’s an indication that New Haven has a very active entrepreneurial community with people that are willing not only to take a risk opening a shop but people who are willing to support local businesses,” Mayor Justin Elicker said.
About the coffee, he said, “I’m a believer.”
Pronouncing herself a “frequent flier,” Wooster Square Alder Ellen Cupo (pictured) expressed excitement about Kaiyden’s as “a place for people to come together, to have a cup of coffee, to get a scone or a muffin, and to get to know their neighbors.”
State Rep. Roland Lemar, a neighbor of the shop, praised barista Maissie Musick for concocting “wonderful drinks” for his family to enjoy, particularly his son, who doesn’t drink coffee.
He then turned to Onukwugha. “It takes incredible courage to open up, to spend your time, your money, your effort, incredible dedication and passion, to take a risk in this economy right now,” he said.
Whether his early popularity index might be explained from the relief that comes after an 18-month-long absence of a local coffee shop is open to debate.
“It’s about time,” someone said. “I was in severe withdrawal.”
“I’d love for this to be a place for the community to gather. I’d love to be able to offer more employment to more people, and I’d love to be around for a nice, long time,” Onukwugha said, as little Kaiyden gazed up at him.
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What happened to the other coffee shop that was getting new windows?
How do you pronounce the name: Kai-den? Key-den? Kai-e-den?
@stylo—good call. I feel bad for the owner who purchased Fuel (and changed it to whatever name). Poor guy had to jump through 1000 hoops to change some windows. Wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t a minority (or actually, any other minority besides Asian).
I was just talking to someone the other day about the noticable ‘dearth’ of Downtown Coffee Shops… The selection just ain’t what it used to be! (especially with JoJo’s now gone)
Glad Starbucks hasn’t pulled the rug totally out from under the ‘locally brewed’—their ‘corporate model’ couldn’t sustain two ‘big chains’ in NH.
Locally owned coffee and tea shops with baked goods and breakfast or lunch stuff are great for neighborhoods. They create community meeting places and bring people together and add to the lively feel of a neighborhood.
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