After 57 years, the Doodle closes

This article has been corrected. You may view this article’s correction here.

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.

Lewis Beckwith Sr. founded the Yankee Doodle Coffee Shop in 1950. The beloved restaurant, which remained in his family for 57 years, closed its doors yesterday.
Lewis Beckwith Sr. founded the Yankee Doodle Coffee Shop in 1950. The beloved restaurant, which remained in his family for 57 years, closed its doors yesterday.

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.”

Comments

  • Sad alum

    This is really painful. Unbearable.

    Not only did I love their food, but they were one of the few family-owned places remaining. You felt you knew the ownership and could rely on consistent food. I don't know anywhere else I can get a fried doughnut or hamburger with butter and sweet relish as standard toppings.

    This is a truly sad day.

  • DoodleLover

    If Yale won't save a fine establishment like the Doodle, then why does it continue to support Mory's, which has been enforcing a slew of distinctly anti-student policies as of late (as well as worse food, service, and overpriced menus)!

    Farewell, Yankee Doodle!

    CC '01

  • Hieronymus

    I am at a loss, truly distressing. I, and my father before me, had been sustained almost daily on a diet of Doodleburgers. Lou Jr. knew me by sight; his daughter, my order: one doodle cheeseburger, one orange juice.

    Really, this is distressing and sad.

  • saddest alum

    Thanks to the entire Beckwith family. You were a home away from home for generations of us.

  • So Sad.

    When I was two, my mom and dad used to take me to the Doodle for a tiny vanilla milkshake before we went to see the dinosaurs at the Peabody. When I was an undergrad, I treated myself to a hamburger and a vanilla coke when I finished an exam. I'm a grad student now, and I can't tell you how much I'll miss the Doodle--I've loved it my whole life.

  • Sandra L. Davis (yesharvardsucks@yahoo.com&#41

    1-29-08 will be remembered forever as the day the Yankee Doodle closed its doors. I am absolutely heartbroken, and can count the only regret in my life as not having a pig at The Doodle. Thank God I tasted everything else and had the pleasure to be in the good company of Lew Jr, Rick, Darlene and Mom (on Sundays and special days when filling in for Darlene!!!). As an alum, I would virtually skip to The Doodle for at least one meal a day -- sometimes two! And the best part was endulging in a bag of Doodleburgers "to go" for the train home to DC. My sadness at the closing of The Doodle can only be eclipsed by the happiness enjoyed inside the small, yet perfect, eatery. One of my best days at Yale was when I walked into The Doodle and was greeted by name. I love The Doodle and always will!!!

  • Yale 07

    I tip my hat to Rick for doing all he could. Last year they ran out of their famous "barbecue sauce" and never got it back in stock. I guess that was the beginning of the end. Now I really have no reason to go back to New Haven. Just the other day I found myself rhapsodizing about doodle dandies and fried donuts with a fellow alum. A sad day indeed.

  • Mike

    As a former townie and a D'port alum, I am doubly saddened.

  • Yale '05

    Very sad. The best food in New Haven. I hope some wealthy alums step in to save the day.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, the Doodle was a NH establishment steeped in years of tradition. But honestly the food (for food's sake) was pretty crappy. I respect the people who say that it was one of their favorite haunts (places that are dives are certainly fun) but for those who say they were the "best burgers" they've ever had are either deluded or don't have a very refined palate.

  • Joe E.

    ..Find out how long Mr.Ianuzzi owned that property,i believe this was a recent transaction.It would be nice to try and locate another spot for Mr.Beckwith
    But i really believe Mr.Ianuzzi has other plans for that spot,maybe an expansion of his Tyco is in the works
    …I knew something was amiss by the statements of the workers inside Tyco

  • Doodle Fan

    6:25: say what you will about Doodle burgers being good or bad, one thing is for sure is that they are unique. I lived in NYC since graduating from Yale 5 years ago and for the past 5 years I have looked for a place that sells cheeseburgers like the Doodle's, without success. (Any recommendations are appreciated!)

  • Lu-Ca$h

    "yale this, yale that, i came to yale for 4 years and loved the doodle," you all say.
    i lived in new haven for my whole life, going to the doodle with my brothers and homies all the time for years. the idea of there being no doodle hasn't sunken in yet, but i'm starting to feel like my cousin just died. this isn't over. if rick wants to re-open, i'm gonna make it happen. oh and #10, dont tell doodle mourners that the doodle's food sucked, cause obviously no one agrees with you and this isn't the time or place. have some respect for christ's sake.

  • a former neighbor

    i lived on dwight for 10 years during grad school and afterwards. the doodle sustained me and many others. Lew Jr knew my name and my order, breakfast or lunch; Rick did the same. i moved across town, got married and move just outside new haven and still visited the doodle. apparently not enough. the doodle will be sorely missed.

  • Socrates

    I hate Tyco.

  • L dot $

    #7, they got back the sweet pepper relish a handful of weeks before the worst thing ever happened.
    if the rent is "manhattan price" like they said in the Register, why doesn't yale buy up the property like they bought up the rest of new haven and let my main man set up shop again?! or why doesn't some rich yale graduate step up to the plate and drop 1/1,000,000th of his daughters stock portfolio and hook a brother up?

  • '96

    Ain't worth lookin, won't find many of these joints. Surely most City's have trendy cafe's…Unfortunately, flavorful variety is fading quickly on the menus of our streets.

    What a great thing to walk over and have a Doodle Burger after an exam. No one's walkin to Olive Garden (or Scoozi's)after class.

  • Cheeseburger and Chocolate Milk

    Wow. So ridiculously sad. I don't have anything substantial to add except my own fond memories of the Doodle. Cheeseburger and chocolate milk. Darlene would always remember my order, and the Doodle was always a refuge and sanctuary for me. I'll always remember Lew Jr. working the grill and sweating up a storm. There are all sorts of Feb Club alumni events going on this month across the country, and I hope those events could present an opportunity to revive the Doodle for current and future generations of Yalies and residents of New Haven. But, that is probably just wistful thinking.

  • JE '95

    If you care and love the Doodle, you should visit the Doodle's website. All is not lost. You can donate money to save it!!

  • sadie

    wel researched article -this one. pulls your heart- really sad.