NEW HAVEN -- Ahead of its time from the start, a popular eatery in New Haven is marking a milestone. Claire's Corner Copia has been offering a healthy menu for 40 years, and it's become a New Haven institution.
On Wednesday afternoon, Yale University along with New Haven leaders, took part in a 40th anniversary celebration along with Claire Criscuolo, the owner of the restaurant that is considered a staple on the corner of Chapel and College Street.
"You have transformed this street corner into a destination crossroads and you have seasoned it with your distinctive signature," said New Haven Mayor Toni Harp.
Criscuolo, a former nurse, opened the restaurant with her late husband Frank in 1975 as a vegetarian restaurant with the concept of a healthy-eating menu.
"When we started we really just wanted to make healthier food. We wanted more organic and more sustainable... We just wanted to be part of a community," said Criscuolo.
Claire's was ahead of its time as a vegetarian, then as a vegan-friendly and organic-reliant, restaurant.
"Years ago we had a lot of educating to make people understand real food can taste delicious," said Criscuolo.
Criscuolo has gone on to write celebrated cookbooks and lectured widely on health and nutrition and food. Yet she has remained in the kitchen chopping fresh local red peppers and out in the dining room serving hugs and tastes of new concoctions to her generations of loyal customers.
"It's always packed, so I run over and catch a quick lunch break and get what I need to get from here. I love their soups and salads," said Iline Tracuy, a Cheshire resident who works in New Haven and has eaten at Claire's for 30 years.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and alum of Yale School of Medicine and Yale School of Management, made a surprise visit to Claire's on Wednesday afternoon.
The Surgeon General attended Yale in the late 90s and early 2000s, and said he frequented Claire's to "hang out with friends and eat, especially the delicious Lithuanian Coffee Cake," Murthy said.
During his visit, Murthy thanked Criscuolo for offering healthy options to the community, and says restaurants like Claire's play an important role in keeping Americans healthy.
"They can help educate consumers as well, about why certain foods are healthier, they can encourage people to drink water, eat fruits and vegetables. Claire is doing those things, and I'm very excited about some of those things they have coming down the pipeline," said Murthy.
Criscuolo was given a proclamation for her service to the community by New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and U.S. Congresswoman Rosa Delauro.
"Running this restaurant is like having the best kid in the world, and all your friends telling you did a great job," said Criscuolo.