Yalies looking for their usual caffeine fix will find a change of scenery — or at least signage — after Koffee Too? announced last week that it has changed its name to The Publick Cup.
“As a coffee shop, we’re always looking to grow and mature and improve with time,” said Ben Wilkinson, the general manager of the York Street coffee joint. “We’re looking to create a new identity to highlight high-quality products and distinguish ourselves.”
In September, the store held a contest in which customers were invited to submit their suggestions for the store’s new name. Employees then voted on several finalists before owner Tracy Jackson and her husband and co-owner, Lee, selected the new title.
In 1998, Jackson purchased Koffee on Aububon Street, and in 2001 she opened a second location next to Yale’s campus. Jackson owned both stores until Dec. 2002, when she sold the original Koffee? to Duncan Goodall.
The two stores have coexisted for the past five years with different ownership and similar names. But over the last six months, Wilkinson said, former Koffee Too? has begun to utilize many environmental practices that motivated the store’s management to revamp its image — starting with a new name.
The Publick Cup and Koffee on Audubon used to use the same coffee roaster. But in September, Jackson’s establishment switched to Seattle-based Dillanos, which Wilkinson said he thinks “offers a higher-quality coffee.”
“Many things that we are doing with our coffee have encouraged us to differentiate — for our sake and for the customer’s sake — from Koffee on Audubon,” he said. “We think it’s important to create a new brand. We even want to differentiate from [our old brand] Koffee Too?”
The Publick Cup’s coffee-cup sleeves and cold cups are biodegradable and made from corn, and sandwich containers are fashioned from environmentally sustainable bamboo, Wilkinson said. Employee T-shirts are made from organic cotton, and the staff uses washable dishes and flatware whenever possible. The restaurant also only serves and sells fair-trade coffees and teas, he said.
But Duncan Goodall, the owner of Koffee on Audubon and Koffee on Orange, said his establishments also follow environmentally friendly practices.
He said his stores use 100-percent fair-trade and organic coffee, coffee sleeves made from recycled materials, cornstarch cold cups, biodegradable paper cups, hormone-free milk and ceramic mugs made by a Guatemalan women’s cooperative.
Goodall said he respects The Publick Cup and has an amicable relationship with its owner and staff.
He said he was comfortable sharing the “Koffee” name with Koffee Too? but acknowledged that it was a source of confusion for customers.
“Whenever there’s a piece of your brand that you don’t have control over, that always represents a risk,” Goodall said. “The implications of one shop flow to the other shop, so I understand their decision to change the name.”
Patrons of The Publick Cup also said the similarity between the two names was confusing.
Kim Carlson GRD ’09 said she once set up a meeting at Koffee on Audubon, but she went there while the other person went to what was then called Koffee Too?
Although she thinks the new name is more convenient, it also made her do a double take.
“When I saw the sign at first, I thought it said it was ‘The Publick Pub,’ ” she said. “I thought they added alcohol to their menu at first.”
Wilkinson said he thinks most customers have been pleased with the new name, although a few questioned its unconventional spelling.
But, he said, what many patrons do not know is that the new name — and its spelling — are lifted from the original Yale charter.
The 1701 document states that the aim of Yale College is to educate students “in the arts and sciences” so they are “fitted for Publick employment.”
“[Yale] focuses on enlightening people to a higher standard,” Wilkinson said. “This has encouraged us to go out and tie that in with our new name, our service, our higher-quality beverages and our commitment to practices that reduce harm to the globe.”
Molly Worthen ’03 GRD ’11 said she does not care for the new name, posting on the News’ Web site that she thought it seemed like “a cross between an Elizabethan alehouse and a communist workers’ hall.”
She said she thought the spelling was corny but also said she has a conservative bias against the change because she frequented the original shop as an undergraduate. Worthen also said she thinks the new name’s connection to the University seems forced.
“Part of the chemistry of Koffee Too? was that faint and implicit non-Yale atmosphere. The employees have kind of a wry, slightly bitter sense of humor toward Yale, and often, a lot of locals are here,” Worthen said. “I’ve always appreciated that dissenter attitude.”
But many customers seemed indifferent to the change. Alex Borinsky ’08 said he did not have a strong opinion about the change, and Craig Parker, a faculty member at the University of New Haven, said the new name was not that important to him.
Gordon Edelstein, artistic director of Long Wharf Theater, said he appreciated the openness implied in the use of the word “public” but did not notice the change.
“I come here to read,” he said. “As long as they serve good tea, I’m happy.”
In addition to the name change, Wilkinson said, The Publick Cup has replaced its old couches but has made few other physical alterations.
“We want to stress that it’s not new management, it’s not new owners,” Wilkinson said. “We’re just increasing our commitment to quality and standard of excellence.”
The Publick Cup plans to remodel its interior during Yale’s spring break in March in order to give the store a new image to match the name change, he said.