So the strip-mall burger joint Five Guys is coming to prime real estate in downtown New Haven. I posted an enthusiastic welcome on Facebook when the news broke, only to be taken aback when a friend whose opinion I value commented with a one word takedown: “meh.”
I’m usually the guy who bangs the drum on the urgent need for homegrown, unique food and retail destinations — the kind of spots that can make a place like New Haven show off some creative-class vigor. So why was my initial reaction to a near ubiquitous chain like Five Guys positive (other than the fact that they do have great fries)?
Because for all of the brouhaha over the New Haven foodie scene (I revisited Miya’s recently, for example, and can’t wait to go back) there are precious few inexpensive, family-friendly places to eat. Much of downtown too often feels like a playground for wealthy suburbanites, and I believe that has largely been by design.
For New Haven’s downtown to truly thrive, it needs to find ways to be more actively inclusive. Yes, racially and ethnically, but also — importantly — economically.
Without the buzz of people from all walks of life, downtown New Haven treads perilously close to feeling much like (shudder) Hartford — albeit a city with a grand University in its midst, with the smarts and gothic-tinged architecture to help us masquerade as more fully realized than I fear we are.