Comfort Food for Lean Times

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IMG_2793NEW HAVEN — It took a while, but the vacant building at Elm and Park streets finally has been filled. The corner location bordering the Yale campus turned out to be an ideal spot for Box 63, a restaurant offering comfort foods in an easy, laid-back setting, according to co-owner Carl Carbone.

“I always had an eye on it,” says Carbone, a concept-developer restaurateur and consultant who likes the diversity of New Haven’s culinary scene. Box 63 opened last June.

Billed as a traditional “American Bar & Grill,” the restaurant welcomes patrons with its slogan, “Eat with Your Hands.”

“It’s all about being a feel-good place,” says Carbone. “The ‘Eat with Your Hands’ is about an attitude. We want people to relax.”

 

Photo: Carl (left) and cousin Tom Carbone at New Haven's Box 63.

The slogan is as much a figurative mind-set as it is a literal directive, notes Carbone. In addition to finger-friendly foods such as sandwiches, French fries, nachos and buffalo wings, Box 63 also offers soups, salads, potpies, macaroni and cheese and other popular American dishes for which flatware is de rigueur. A musical backdrop of classic rock songs from the 1970s adds to the retro vibe.

By creating an inviting atmosphere and keeping prices moderate, customers are kept satisfied, Carbone says.

“Gone are the days of a $250 dinner on a Saturday night,” he says. “I think it’s becoming fashionable to be [economically] conservative. Good food and good value — those things are what motivate people. Comfort food is the most broad category.”

Carbone, a former chef who lives in Chester, partnered with cousin Tom Carbone to open Box 63. The name of the restaurant alludes to the building’s former use as a firehouse. It had long been re-established as a structure that houses eateries such as the late, lamented Fitzwilly’s. The most recent tenant was Cosi, a coffee and sandwich shop.

Carbone liked that the building was close to the Yale campus — a nearby customer base — yet not exactly downtown.

“I felt it was an alternative location,” he says. “I see it as not so much a destination as an enhancement to the city. The conception is, we’re the place to be if you’re looking to go somewhere [to eat] after [an event].”

The business partners drew mostly on friends and family to fund the enterprise. The roughly $700,000 start-up cost was “mostly self-financed,” says Carbone. Menu items are priced for the restaurant’s long-term survival, he adds. He believes diner frugality will be the norm for the foreseeable future.

“I don’t think any intelligent businessman is not aware of the economy,” Carbone asserts. “Everybody’s broke at some level. I don’t think it’s going to change.”

Given that, Carbone has determined that giving customers quality wrapped in feel-good comfort is paramount to Box 63’s success. It’s a lesson Carbone, who makes it a point to personally interact with customers, learned about the business long ago from his father.

“He said human beings are no different than they were 50 years ago,” Carbone noted. “They make decisions based on emotion.”

 

— Felicia Hunter

 
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