The Union League Cafe is the place in New Haven where people make big deals — in life and in business. And on Monday afternoon people gathered to celebrate the French-inspired brasserie being a big deal on Chapel Street for 25 years.
Union League Cafe Owner and Chef Jean-Pierre Vuillermet toasted 25 years of casual but elegant dining with French flare with kind words, fond memories, and champagne. A small reception kicked off what will be a month-long celebration to mark the milestone anniversary, he said.(Check out the special 25th-anniversary menu here.)
“It’s 25 years for Union League Cafe but I’ve been in this building for 32 years,” Vuillermet noted, with a chuckle. “In the restaurant business, it’s like dog years. I don’t think I’ll be here another 25.”
Vuillermet was the chef when the restaurant’s location, in the historic Roger Sherman Building, was known as Robert Henry’s. He said so much has changed since Union League Cafe opened. But one thing hasn’t: the community.
“It’s always been a dynamic, diverse, and supportive community,” he said. “It’s been exciting to see and be part of it.”
Mayor Toni Harp noted that New Haven’s reputation as a destination for food has risen with the prominence of the Union League Cafe.
“Just a few years ago New Haven was voted the nation’s No. 1 foodie city,” she said. “I give a great deal of the credit for that to the Union League Cafe setting the standard for some of the finest food in the Nutmeg State.”
Harp praised Vuillermet and his wife Robin for their commitment to the city. Both have served as mentors to ProStart culinary students at Wilbur Cross High School. Students in the program recently brought home a national championship win in a culinary competition, a first for a school in Connecticut and the New England region.
“To say New Haven is better for having the distinct presence of the Union League Cafe these past 25 years would be the appetizer to a full menu of contributions made to our city,” Mayor Harp said.
Vuillermet said that Robin and the restaurant’s General Manager Jean-Michel Gammariello are the two driving forces behind him and the restaurant. He thanked them both with emotion in his voice Monday.
Lauren Zucker, associate vice president for New Haven Affairs and University Properties, said that Yale University had been Union League’s landlord for 19 of the restaurant’s 25-year run, but even better than that, the university has been “their patron and their friend.”
“Success is really about community engagement and effort,” she said. “Without the support of New Haveners and all of you who continue to dine in our city, shop in our stores, and support our local treasures, the Union League could not continue to thrive.”
Zucker called the Union League “truly a success story under every definition.”
For Garrett Sheehan, president and CEO of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, the celebration of the Union League was very personal. It’s where he and his wife celebrated their engagement seven years ago.
“I can speak from experience that this is a special place for special moments,” he said. “And even now as chamber president when we have important meetings, when we want to get something done, this is the place to go. I can only imagine how many people have had their special moment here — how many deals have been made here.”