Old Fuel Fuels New Cafe

If you're jonesing for a cup of coffee in the next time you're in Wooster Square, you may not have to go back downtown. Come November, you can pick it up on 516 Chapel St., where another signature brew was once handed out by the cupful.

At least, that's the hope for Zhiming and Sarah Wang, building owners who are opening a new cafe at Fuel Coffee's old location. After two years looking for a tenant to occupy the first floor space, the two have decided to run a cafe themselves, with two part-time baristas. They have already hired one and are looking for another.

Despite renovation delays, they expect to be open by November. 

"The community needs a coffee shop," said Sarah Wang Tuesday evening, stepping over planks of wood and tarp that has yet to transform into a finished product.  "It's been a long time coming."

With a team of contractors, the two have given the space a facelift. A new, dropped white ceiling has replaced an old one. Exposed brick shines from where it's been cleaned on a back wall. Planks of wood still cover the ground, but they have purposes: a floorboard, counter reinforcement, bit of the prep area waiting to be put into action. 

The property has been out of commission for close to two years. From 2005 to 2015, Fuel Coffee lived at 516 Chapel St., frequented by neighborhood regulars and foot traffic from the Saturday Wooster Square farmer's market. Then in 2015, owner Courtney Ciesla moved the coffee shop to Wooster Street. 

She was there for two years. Then June of this year, Ciesla closed up shop on Wooster Street. The property was approved as a "beauty bar" by the Board of Zoning appeals in July. 

Since 2015, the lower floor of the building at 516 Chapel St. has been vacant. Earlier this week, the Wangs mounted a banner reading "Coming Soon: Wooster Square Coffee," with a small, steaming mug under the words.

Originally, Zhiming Wang had approached the City Plan Commission with plans to convert the space into an apartment, according to a City Plan advisory report that was published in 2015. That never came to be, and the first floor of the property has remained vacant since Fuel ownerCiesla moved her business to 203 Wooster St., and then out of New Haven.      

While the Wangs are keeping the details largely under wraps until a ribbon cutting, they said that the 1100 square foot property is set to open this fall, with sandwiches and salads as well as a full coffee and tea menu. They are still looking for bakeries to contract out to, and are taking suggestions. And they've made a habit of doing some work with the door open — so curious neighbors can peek inside and meet them. 

"There's lots of work to do," said Wang in an earlier conversation, as he sat in Russo Park. "So we are excited, but it's lots of pressure."