Alum-run businesses merge town with gown



With all the publicity in the past year, some students might think that the only Yale-connected businesses in New Haven are MexiCali Grille and technology company Higher One. But alumni-operated companies do more than make burritos and multipurpose ID cards.

Numerous Yale alumni operate businesses in the city, focusing on areas ranging from coffee to aluminum. Some businesses have been here for only a few years or even months while others have existed for generations.

Tony Rescigno, president of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, said he was pleased by many Yalies’ decisions to stay in the city and use their talents for its benefit. Yale Associate Vice President Michael Morand of New Haven and State Affairs agreed.

“The public and community service by Yale students is well known,” Morand said. “But we should remember that the efforts of local alumni in the private sector are equally important as they create jobs and wealth for the people of New Haven.”

United Aluminum and Koffee? are two businesses representative of the diversity of alumni ventures. John Lapides ’72 is the president of United Aluminum, which his great-grandfather founded in 1891. Lapides has been heading the family-owned aluminum coil producing company for the past 14 years.

Lapides said a liberal arts education like the one he received at Yale “gives you a broader context and broader understanding of your role in society.”

“I loved Yale,” Lapides said. “It’s a wonderful place to be and a wonderful institution.”

He said his studies at Yale in anthropology were particularly helpful in understanding this role. He said he realized through his study of primitive societies that these groups have to make a “profit” of calories or face starvation. It made him look at the broader context of taking care of his employees and the community as well as his family.

Duncan Goodall ’95 also said his Yale undergraduate experiences influenced the way he runs his business. After graduation, Goodall lived in Argentina and worked as a consultant. When he came back to the United States in 2001, he said he chose to return to New Haven instead of Washington or New York because his wife has family in the area and he enjoyed his time here as a student.

“It was a natural choice for us,” Goodall said.

Koffee? had been one of his favorite cafes as a student, and he purchased it in December of last year. Goodall said the changes he made to the eatery were based on the way he would have wanted things to be when he was a student, like keeping the restaurant open later hours.

“I’ve always really wanted to own my own business, even as an undergrad, but I didn’t feel prepared for it,” Goodall said. “Koffee was one of my primary hangouts. It was here and CCL.”

Goodall said he also wanted to use Koffee to help improve another problem he had noticed as a student — the lack of interaction between students and the city.

“I feel that Yale and Yalies in general — just based on my experience — are isolated from the community at large,” Goodall said, adding that he wanted the cafe to serve as a meeting place.

Many more Yale-associated businesses could be on the way. Kenneth Freije ’05, the vice president of finance for the Yale Entrepreneurial Society, said his group has seen 20 to 30 businesses currently in the idea stage. While not all of these plans will materialize or are even set in New Haven, Freije said they were mainly concentrated in the city and New England.

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