Alumni rally to resurrect the Doodle

Yankee Doodle may come back to town, riding on support from University students and alumni.

Since the restaurant closed Monday, citing “economic considerations” — and provoking sadness and shock among Yalies past and present — The Yankee Doodle Coffee Shop’s owner Richard Beckwith has received thousands of e-mails and phone calls in support of the Doodle. And in the three days since the store shut its doors for good, a group of alumni have begun organizing an effort to revive the Doodle through online donations.

But the short and long-term viability of a comeback remains unclear in light of the restaurant’s financial troubles.

Beckwith said the sheer magnitude of concern and gratitude he has received — in the form of hundreds of phone calls and thousands of e-mails — has been “overwhelming” and is a clear affirmation of the Doodle’s significance to today’s, and yesterday’s, Yale community.

“I’m at a loss for words. When it came down to closing the Doodle, I expected to hear from people in saying how sorry they were and so on,” Beckwith said. “The overwhelming response that I’m getting now — I guess it’s touched a lot more people’s lives than I would have ever thought.”

Scott Proper ’01, a frequent visitor to the Doodle throughout his Yale career, heard about the restaurant’s closing Tuesday and called Beckwith. After his conversation with Beckwith, Proper organized a conference call with a few Yale alumni.

His goal: establish a plan to get the Doodle back in business.

“[The Doodle] has some immediate financial needs that can fortunately be addressed with cash,” Proper said. “Issues related to the long-term viability of the Doodle … are realistically tertiary to the immediate issues that need to be solved with cash.”

The Doodle’s “immediate financial need” consists of accumulated back rent and penalties on the back rent, Anton Orlich GRD ’07, an alumnus who is also involved in the fundraising effort, said. The penalties on the back rent totalled more than half of the amount of the back rent, Orlich said.

Proper has already started promoting the Doodle fundraising drive online. Through Facebook groups called “Save the Doodle” and “SAVE THE DOODLE,” which had 1,147 and 403 members, respectively, at press time, Proper is asking for donations to an online payment service — the PayPal account YDCSTHEDOODLE@aol.com.

Proper did not comment on how much money had been raised since the drive started Wednesday, but he said he was researching other ways to collect donations for those who do not have PayPal accounts.

As of press time, 10 people had joined the Facebook group “I contributed to save the Doodle,” which was created by Orlich and asks members to donate at least 10 dollars in order to join.

If the fundraising drive pans out and the restaurant reopens, Beckwith explained, the Doodle could see a head-to-toe makeover from the money it makes. The interior would be refashioned to look more like it did in 1950, he said, and the menu would be revamped with newer items to appeal to changing tastes, without losing the traditional, trademark ones.

But even with the apparent strength of the Doodle revival movement, Beckwith would still need a space for his restaurant.

Michael Ianuzzi, the owner of Tyco Copy and the co-owner of the property next door that houses both the Doodle and Tyco, said he is open to the possibility of a Doodle revival, but only if a specific plan of action is laid out.

“I’ve heard generalizations before, and so if I were to hear something absolutely specific then I would consider it,” Ianuzzi said. “A lot of dust is settling right now.”

Although nothing is official, Ianuzzi said Tyco will most likely expand into the Doodle’s vacated space. The space is too small to sensibly rent it to another establishment, he said.

But there will be “settling time” before any action is taken, Ianuzzi added.

Tyco has received a great deal of unfair and misdirected criticism, Ianuzzi said. After reports were published in the New Haven Independent and the New Haven Register that unfairly high rent costs may have been behind the Doodle’s demise, many were quick to point the finger at Tyco, he said.

But Ianuzzi said the dollar-per-square-foot rental rate of the Doodle’s space was disproportionately large simply because of the property’s small size. The Doodle’s rent cannot be compared on a dollar-per-square-foot basis to spaces like Au Bon Pain, which is located across the street, because of the size difference, he explained.

Beckwith told the News on Tuesday that rent was one of many economic reasons, not the determining factor, that led to the Doodle’s closing.

“In the past two years, I have done more than anyone — and I would challenge anyone to say otherwise — in terms of keeping [the Doodle] going for the past two years.” Ianuzzi said. “To hear all this stuff — it’s just horrible because it couldn’t be further than the truth.”

Beckwith told the News on Tuesday that he is thankful for Ianuzzi’s effort and support over the years.

Beckwith said he decided to close the Doodle abruptly, rather than setting a date, because he wanted to avoid answering questions about the closing during the restaurant’s last days.

“Knowing that people value the restaurant that much — that they are going to move mountains to keep it there — it just makes me feel great,” Beckwith said. “I know my father has a big smile on his face right now.”

Beckwith’s father, Lewis Beckwith Jr., who owned the Doodle for 28 years before passing it on to his son, passed away from bone cancer in 2002.

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