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.”

Comments

  • Anonymous

    Some things just don't need saving. Whatever the details of the lease agreement, the Tyco owner is right - the real problem is that Yankee Doodle hasn't been bringing in revenue the last few years.

    What with decent-but-not-great food, rude service, and inexplicably terrible hours of operation, it's not at all surprising that the place had to shut down. What's more surprising - and absurd - is that thousands of dollars that could have gone to worthy charity causes has instead been donated to try to keep a financially nonviable business afloat, to try to insulate it from the fact that no one wants to go there anymore.

    I have no doubt that Yankee Doodle has an important place in Yale history. But it's just that - history. When you see those old pictures of 1970s and 80s students crowding into the Doodle, remember that for the last few years the place has been lucky to have more than one person inside at a time. The Doodle has plenty of history, but it's run its course - let it go quietly into oblivion as failing businesses do, and donate your money somewhere where it will actually make a difference.

  • Recent Alum

    2:20 a.m. is probably a vegetarian. Some of us love the Doodle not just as a part of history or tradition, but also as a place to get what are arguably the best burgers (and milk shake!) in New England.

  • Sarah '07

    Not even arguably, I'd say. Straight-up best burgers on the East Coast. And I don't know what 2:20 is talking about. I've had to wait nearly every single time I went to the Doodle over the past year or so.

  • recent alum

    the food and atmosphere were distinctive and great for the style. it had an authentic 50's sort of feel that is irreplaceable. it's worth a lot to the campus, and i hope it can stay there. i don't think it would be the same diner in a different location or with a different facade.

  • Anonymous

    the yankee doodle was alright. regardless of personal opinion about the burgers and the shakes or the service (which, i agree, wasnt the friendliest), its amazing to me how much time and energy has gone into resuscitating this business.

  • Michael Iannuzzi (TYCO)

    As a friend and neighbor of the Yankee Doodle and the Beckwith family we have agreed to keep the Yankee Doodle's location vacant, absorbing the cost ourselves, for a period of two months to give the Doodle the time it needs to get to the root of its economic issues, develop a successful business plan, and raise the funds needed to reopen and sustain this business for future generations. We think this is an excellent opportunity for the Doodle to return to its historic location and to address the real questions that we have outlined. Please visit http://www.tycocopy.com for more information.

  • Anonymous

    If they had the best burgers and shakes on the east coast, they wouldn't be closing down. Though I've been at Yale for 6 years, I've only been to Yankee Doodle twice. Both times I found the food to be exactly like I make it at home (which, though still good, is highly mediocre) and the service to be brusque, bordering on rude. The servings were pretty small, and I also always found the place to be empty.

    I agree with 2:20 that a bailout is not warranted - it seems to me that Yankee Doodle came to rest too heavily on its laurels, pompously refusing to remain competitive by extending its hours and adopting the attitude that it's OUR pleasure to eat THERE. This is the natural result.

    Preserving the iconic name might be meaningful if it brings about a significant change in business practices, otherwise it's just swimming against the riptide.

  • Joseph H.

    i went by The Doodle on the City bus,the place was completely empty,The Owner/Chef was wiping something down at his station.
    I wanted to jump at the chance of my choice of stools but i was afraid i'd get the door slammed on me or snapped at- That the place is closed.
    Tyco is no better ,with long lines and a real nasty attitude.This is modus operandi for your overlords and decision makers, Big Brother knows whats best for it's students.Maybe someone should ask the owner of the Doodle if he wants to continue to run that type of business.
    My condolences to the guys Father,
    is the Doodle actually in M.Ianuzzi's property or is that a seperate building from Tyco ?

  • Doodle Fan

    6:08, you sound like a vegan. Maybe you should write comments on where to find the purchase the best vegetables and leave it to us meat lovers to mourn the closing of the best burgers restaurant this side of the Mississippi.

  • Anonymous

    Let the business go. The staff was rude! You never knew when the business was opened. The food was really just O.K.

    An affordable 24 hour Chinese Takeout would serve the Yale Community much better. You would actually have people who would want to work also.

    Change is hard - I remember the Coop Leaving and the Daily Caffe Closing. Broadway is the better for it.

    The owners had to real motivation to have a successful business let them move on.