University willing to rent space to Doodle

The Lancraft Fife and Drum Corps’ renditions of “Yankee Doodle” echoed several blocks from its namesake restaurant down Elm Street on Sunday afternoon, as Yale and New Haven saw evidence of the feverish alumni effort to save the Doodle.

Meanwhile, less than a week after the Yankee Doodle Coffee Shop closed, citing financial hardship, dreams of reopening the Doodle may already be less daunting than they once seemed. On Friday, Bruce Alexander, the University’s vice president and director of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs, offered to rent one of the University’s properties to owner Rick Beckwith to preserve his iconic institution.

The Lancraft Fife and Drum Corps shows its support on Sunday for the Yankee Doodle, which closed Jan. 28, citing economic difficulties.
Grant Smith
The Lancraft Fife and Drum Corps shows its support on Sunday for the Yankee Doodle, which closed Jan. 28, citing economic difficulties.

“It’s a great New Haven institution,” Alexander told the Register. “We’re trying to contact the owner to see if he’d be interested in one of our properties.”

Alexander could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Beckwith told the New Haven Register on Friday that, while he is aware of the offer, he is not yet ready to respond.

As of Sunday morning, the fundraising efforts had garnered $3,785 in donations and $17,125 in merchandise — of which less than 30 percent will go toward saving the Doodle, since the remaining 70 percent is used to pay for merchandise and shipping. Estimated costs for renovation and implementation of a revised business plan are projected at $100,000.

In another attempt to help the Doodle with its financial crisis, the Economic Development Office of City Hall contacted Beckwith to identify potential remedies. City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said Mayor John DeStefano Jr. had a conversation with Beckwith to discuss renovating the diner’s façade and launching a marketing campaign for both Tyco and Yankee Doodle.

“There were conversations that took place about the façade-improvement program, and loans that [city resources] are able to gather to offer,” Mayorga said. “But it just ended up not working out.”

But when he met with City Hall the day before the Doodle closed, at Beckwith’s request, Iannuzzi said no concrete proposals were put on the table.

In addition the continued efforts to reopen the restaurant, stories of a complicated landlord-tenant relationship have begun to grab headlines as well.

In a Facebook exchange between “Save the Doodle” organizers — mostly Yale alumni — and Tyco owner and co-landlord Michael Iannuzzi, Doodle supporters assert that Tyco played an active role in the diner’s demise. But Tyco maintains its position that it did nothing to accelerate the closure of its next-door neighbor.

Phillip McKee ’94, a friend of the Beckwith family and an organizer of “Save the Doodle” initiatives, characterized the dynamic between Iannuzzi and Beckwith as having deteriorated from a “very good friendship” into a “far more business-like relationship” over recent years.

In an exclusive e-mail statement to the News, Beckwith outlined his perspective on his relationship with Tyco.

“He did not do everything humanly possible to save this New Haven institution,” Beckwith wrote. “There is no question that Tyco wanted Yankee Doodle gone, and that led me to make this painful decision to close after over 50 years.”

“But,” he continued, “I am thrilled that the outpouring of support from the community has encouraged him to reconsider.”

But Iannuzzi said their relationship is not as Doodle supporters portray it.

“There is nothing negative about it,” he told the News. “To continue to make the issue a landlord-tenant issue is absolutely ridiculous, because that is not the cause of the decline of the business in any way, shape or form.”

Doodle supporters have focused on specific aspects of the lease agreement between Iannuzzi and Beckwith, pointing out several peculiarities in addition to the relatively high rate of rent. For instance, under the contract in effect before the Doodle’s closure, the landlords did not provide for central heating or upkeep of the building, McKee said.

“All the costs are being shifted onto the Doodle, including the maintenance, including the repairs and even a large portion of the taxes levied on the building, property taxes,” McKee said. “That’s not a normal rental agreement. If you’re going to make all of those things outside fees, paid independently, then the rent should be lower than the regular market.”

But Iannuzzi said the context of these statements was misleading: Regardless of the particulars of the rent agreement, it has been the same throughout the diner’s history, he said.

“It’s the same thing that has been going on for 57 years,” Iannuzzi said. “For 55 of those 57 years, they were very, very profitable under very normal conditions. No customers, no business, no revenue — that is the real issue that people need to address.”

Yale’s proposal adds another dimension to the landlord-tenant issues between Iannuzzi and Beckwith. Many Doodle supporters assert that Tyco was trying to push the diner out so that the copy shop could expand, but Iannuzzi disagrees.

“You’re caught between a rock and a hard place. If I bring in another business into that space, you’re … affecting other people in the area,” he said. “Everybody’s offer to help the Doodle is a great outpouring … but I cannot provide the revenue. All those people need to support them by being on the stools.”

And now, about a week later, Beckwith may still consider moving to keep the Doodle open.

“I do know that [Beckwith] would be more than happy to reopen at whatever location can be found,” McKee said. “I don’t think I would characterize any offer by any New Haven landlord in that area as a last resort.”

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