$300,000 Later, Vegan Fusion Experiment Closes

Maybe it was the location.

Whatever the reason, an ambitious vegetarian-vegan restaurant that opened across from the Criterion movie theater on Temple Street didn’t end up making it.

The restaurant, Red Lentil, closed last Saturday. It employed between eight and 10 people at any one time. (The Register’s Luther Turmelle first reported the closing.)

The owner and head chef, Pankaj Pradhan, opened the restaurant on July 12, 2011. It was an outpost of a successful restaurant he runs in Watertown, Mass. The menu was all vegetarian, with a heavy concentration on vegan food drawing on 40 international cuisines; with table service an extensive beer and wine menu. (Click on the play arrow to watch Pradhan, a native of India who mastered various cooking styles as a Carnival Cruise Lines chef, whip up a gluten-free vegan polenta in the New Haven kitchen.)

The restaurant was also tucked into a pedestrian dead zone, in the shadow of the hulking concrete Temple Street garage. Except for Kudeta, at the busy corner of Crown Street, restaurants have been opening and closing along that hidden block for years.

Pradhan said Thursday that he had originally banked on Yale students flocking to his restaurant the way Harvard kids support his Boston-area outlet. It turned out that many Yale students don’t generally venture past Crown Street.

UI crews tore up the street this summer right in front of Pradhan’s storefront. That hurt business, too he said.

Then Pradhan counted on a flood of new business when Gateway Community College opened its new campus around the corner. The flood never came. Instead, traffic back-ups and scarcer street parking hurt his business more, he theorized. “A lot of chaos went on because of that traffic.” New rules charging street parkers at meters from 7 to 9 p.m. didn’t help, he said.

“I was ready for the [slow New Haven] summer. I could take the loss. I was not ready for the fall and winter. I saw not much happening the last two months” and needed to stem the losses, Pradhan said. He estimated he lost $300,000 overall in New Haven.

Pradhan invited any New Havener missing his sumptuous vegan shepherd’s pie to stop by his still-humming Red Lentil the next time you’re near 600 Mount Auburn St. in Watertown, Mass.

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posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on October 12, 2012  10:34am

Always a bummer to see a decent place close.  I wonder what kind of place could succeed in this retail location?  Fast food?  Discount store?

It’s such a weird location.  You’d think it’d be easier but there’s very little foot traffic right there.  I’d be super curious to hear if anybody has any ideas.

Maybe just give up on retail and turn it into office space of some kind?

posted by: anonymous on October 12, 2012  10:37am

The Watertown restaurant is great - if you’re in Boston, one of the best places to stop for an affordable meal. Good luck to Pradhan and I hope he returns to New Haven, to a better location. 

The restaurants that keep closing here are among the many victims of McGrath’s horrible and deadly legacy of urban planning in mid-century New Haven - one that our current administration seems to have little interest in correcting.

posted by: Wendanyon on October 12, 2012  11:26am

My husband and I ate at this restaurant nearly every week from the day it opened to literally the day it closed. We were planning to eat there tonight. I can’t believe it. I feel bereft.

posted by: anonymous on October 12, 2012  12:09pm

Irish: I was excited when I heard that they were coming to New Haven - then I learned what the planned location was, and I just shook my head. If Red Lentil can’t survive there, nobody can. Even a Starbucks here would fail. It is an awful space for so many reasons that I couldn’t list them all here even if I had the space. If New Haven ever wants to grow its job base, it needs to hire some urban planners who know how to correct these types of problems. Unfortunately, with projects like Route 34, we are going the opposite direction.

posted by: smackfu on October 12, 2012  2:25pm

“Unfortunately, with projects like Route 34, we are going the opposite direction.”

I don’t know about that.  In theory, if Rt 34 wasn’t there or was at surface level, people might have something to walk to down Temple Street.  Now that road just ends at the parking garage.  Of course, the fact that the next block past the restaurants and theater has nothing on either side of the street doesn’t help.

posted by: DingDong on October 12, 2012  8:16pm

I liked that place a lot; I just found the location depressing, so I hardly ever went.

posted by: streever on October 13, 2012  4:07pm

This is the type of inevitable fate of many properties in New Haven, because of the horrible infrastructure, and the continual push to increase the volume of cars in the complete absence of a push to improve safety for walkers and bikers.

I’m so sick of hearing people moan about Yale property not paying enough in taxes. What is the alternative? Until our Mayor sees fit to actually re-think urban planning away from Suburban highway utopias, it is empty storefronts and failing businesses that absolutely could have succeeded.

posted by: Gadjet on October 13, 2012  5:24pm

The reason they failed, & why the other location doesn’t do better, is because they are not completely veggie. Why bother with a place where your food can easily be tainted with maternal cattle excretion (along with all the disease pus, blood,& cow poop that’s naturally present around cow’s milk), when there are many other places around to choose from that don’t just go half ass & are completely vegan? Some will say “well, they want to have stuff for everyone”; Vegan places that make delicious food also have something for everyone & aren’t compromising their values either. Most customers of any vegan restaurant aren’t even vegetarian but just enjoy good, healthy cuisine. Doing a restaurant halfway veg is pointless because anyone who would eat at a “vegetarian” restaurant would be just as happy to dine at a completely vegan restaurant & if you really want to slide down the foolish slope of “something for everyone”, why not also sell veal, organ flesh, blood sausage & all other varieties of disgustingnous that sicken humans just as quickly as milk nature unneeded for baby cows & “everyone” would want?
Anywho, this is why myself & many others never went there & rarely bother with the other place either.

posted by: Stylo on October 13, 2012  11:35pm

I also have avoided going any place there. Seemed like a bad location for Red Lentil. It’s just not an appealing area to go and eat. Honestly, some sort of clothing or retail chain could probably do well there. Something like a GAP would be great for that block. There’s plenty of parking in the garage and perhaps they could validate? 

I can’t imagine anything else food or bar related doing well there unless it had a huge draw, like some very popular chain restaurant or something.

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on October 15, 2012  5:12pm

(SCREAMS, FALLS to ground, banging hands) I can’t believe they are GONE! This was the one restaurant where I could eat and have dessert!  I have a severe milk protein allergy, so I can’t have milk, butter, cheese,casein. So this place was a Godsend.  I could eat desserts! I could have really good food! And the brunch was DIVINE!  Oh I am so mad about not getting that french toast again…talk about food that will make you slap yo mama! 

Oh this hurts.  This really hurts.  I wished they could have found a another New Haven location.

(I know I need to get over it) sigh. (hangs head, kicks rocks)