The Yankee Doodle Coffee Shop, famous for its fried hamburgers, eggs and pigs in a blanket, and affectionately known to Yalies past and present as “the Doodle,” will not open its doors today, tomorrow — or ever again. The Doodle was 57.
The restaurant’s passing was not completely unexpected. Friends of the Doodle said the restaurant — considered by many to be a historic Yale landmark — had fallen on hard times and was struggling to maintain its business in the face of rising costs and a steadily declining patronage.
The door to the Doodle at 258 Elm St. and Thedoodle.com bore the same message yesterday:
“THE YANKEE DOODLE COFFEE SHOP WOULD LIKE TO THANK ALL IT’S CUSTOMERS, FRIENDS AND FAMILY FOR 58 YEARS OF PATRONAGE. UNFORTUNATELY, DUE TO ECONOMIC CONSIDERATIONS, I REGRETFULLY ANNOUNCE THAT TODAY, JANUARY 29TH, ‘THE DOODLE IS CLOSING ITS DOOR FOR GOOD.’ ”
The restaurant was owned and operated by the Beckwith family during all its years of operation.
Lewis Beckwith Sr. gave birth to the Doodle in June of 1950. It was passed down to his son, Lewis Beckwith Jr., in 1972, when Beckwith Sr. retired.
In 2000, when Beckwith Jr. fell ill, his son Richard Beckwith took the reins of the Doodle up until its last day — Jan. 28, 2008.
Twelve Empty Stools
“It’s been a difficult run,” Beckwith, the owner of the Doodle, said. “It was a really difficult decision — it wasn’t something I just woke up and decided to do.”
Phillip McKee ’94, a family friend of the Beckwiths, had been involved in the effort to save the Yankee Doodle for several weeks before the restaurant finally closed Monday.
With the help of Richard Beckwith, McKee devised a plan in early January that he hoped would bring some much-needed capital to the Doodle. Under this plan, the Doodle would sell the rights to plaques in front of each of the 12 stools in the restaurant for $2,000 each. A plaque owner would not only live forever in Doodle infamy but would also receive a 50 percent lifetime discount.
McKee also planned to sell discount cards at a range of prices: $100, $400 and $1,000.
The plan failed, McKee explained, because people started thinking the scheme was a scam when it was forwarded by e-mail, and it generated little hope for the Doodle.
George Koutroumanis and his brother Tony Koutroumanis are the co-owners of another tradition-rich Yale eatery, Yorkside Pizza & Restaurant.
The entire Broadway neighbourhood, George Koutroumanis said, has had a rough time. Higher costs and more competition from newer establishments such as Au Bon Pain and Gourmet Heaven have made it difficult for restaurants to survive, let alone make a profit, Koutroumanis explained.
When the Doodle first opened, there were three restaurants in the area. Now, there are close to a dozen.
“It’s a struggle,” Koutroumanis said. “Customers come in and expect consistency and a constant price but between utilities, taxes, health insurance, property insurance and ingredients, prices have been skyrocketing at astronomical rates.”
Allegations that rising rent prices are the sole cause of the Doodle’s closing are not entirely true, Beckwith said. It would be unfair to pinpoint the cost of rent as the only cause for the shutdown, as it was the “whole economic package” that was to blame, he added.
Michael Ianuzzi, the owner of Tyco Copy and co-owner of the property that houses Tyco and the Doodle, said he has done everything in his power to keep the Doodle in business. Beckwith agreed, and was especially thankful.
Although the Doodle’s small square footage made it so the restaurant had a disproportionately high dollar-per-square-foot ratio, the price of the Doodle’s rent had not gone up significantly in recent years, Ianuzzi said.
“I really thank everyone, there’s been great memories,” Beckwith said. “The show of support right now has been really great, and it’s made me feel really good. You couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”
Bright Dandy Years
Lewis Chodofh ’81 was a frequenter of the Doodle in his Yale days. Just before Thanksgiving last year, he brought his children to New Haven so that they could sample the burgers at one of his favorite college eateries.
“What was remarkable was how unchanged it felt,” Chodofh said of the Doodle. “It’s great, real and down to earth — you knew it had been there forever. You sat down, had a burger and knew it was never going to change.”
Chodofh said closing the Doodle was “a crime.” His kids even said the restaurant served the best burgers they had ever tasted.
The Yankee Doodle was not just another family-operated restaurant. For those with a history at the University or in New Haven, the Doodle is a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation.
Following the news that the Doodle had closed its doors for good, New Haven resident Emmet Smith ’09 promptly started a Facebook group, “SAVE THE DOODLE.” As of presstime, the group has 78 members.
A similar Facebook group, “Save the Doodle,” had 277 members.
Emmet Smith said the ownership at the Doodle knows him because his grandfather, Gaddis Smith ’54 — the Larned Professor Emeritus of History and Yale historian — was a Doodle regular during his Yale days. Emmet recounted times when his grandmother nagged his grandfather to stay away from the Doodle for cholesterol’s sake, but Gaddis snuck in for a Dandy, a double cheeseburger with bacon, anyway.
“I’m really quite crushed by it,” Gaddis Smith said. “There’s a lot of nostalgia there; it’s very much a kind of 1950s place. The food hasn’t changed significantly and [the restaurant] really hasn’t changed at all.”
Gaddis Smith was a freshman when the Doodle opened in 1950. He attributes the decline of the Doodle to healthier eating practices among students.
Plus, the Doodle is not open as late as it used to be, and the restaurant’s earlier times do not cater as much to undergraduates, Gaddis Smith said.
But those very undergraduates, who have supposedly forgotten the Doodle, still mourned its loss.
“Burger places and sandwich places are still in existence, but this place is an emblem of times past, and now it’s gone,” Nicholas Clemm ’10 said. “But the food was great — it was terrible for you — but great.”
Added Zach Marks ’09, “I’m really disappointed. Every day you walk up Elm Street, I go past Yankee Doodle and smile in and look at everyone enjoying their $1.50 eggs and toast, and now it’s gone. And that seemed to be as much of the New Haven I experienced as Sally’s, Pepe’s and Louis’ Lunch.”
Beckwith said he has gotten in excess of 300 e-mails from current students and alumni, and dozens of phone calls from all over the world.
A group of alumni, who are “very influential people,” Beckwith explained, have expressed interest in restoring the Doodle. The influential alumni wanted to donate resources to help the Doodle prior to its closing, but had no idea how imminent the shut-down was, Beckwith said.
“I’ll just have to wait and see what transpires,” he added. “But for right now, I just want to rest.”
So long, farewell, buttered buns.
The Doodle is survived by the memories of Yalies and New Haven residents. And the Facebook group, “Save the Doodle.”