If storefronts were feathers, Yankee Doodle Coffee Shop might soon have a new one to stick into its hat.
Yankee Doodle owner Rick Beckwith said Thursday that he and “a core group of alumni” are currently negotiating the details of a lease on a new location, although he declined to comment on details of the deal. The development comes after just over two weeks of increasingly heated exchanges between Beckwith and the landlord of his Broadway location, concerning the causes of the Doodle’s Jan. 28 closing.
“We are going to re-open again,” Beckwith said. “It is so touching to see how people have reached out to help the Doodle.”
Beckwith had previously cited the support received from alumni and some of his loyal customers since the closing as his main motivation for seeking to resuscitate this hallmark “greasy spoon.”
Within a day of the closing, a group of alumni was on the phone with Beckwith to figure out how to “save the Doodle.” Since then, students have rallied on Facebook, alumni have started a fundraising drive and a fife and drum band has played outside the perpetually locked door of the diner.
Richard Gould ’68 ARC ’72, who said his architecture firm is advising Beckwith in the selection and design of the diner’s location, emphasized the shortened hours of the Doodle as a key contributor to its financial troubles. Gould cited the Doodle’s maladapted business plan as an equally crucial factor in the Doodle’s financial woes as its abnormally high rent.
“The Doodle used to be open until 11 o’clock when I was there. It was the go-to place for Berkeley, Davenport and Saybrook colleges,” he said. “I’ve probably eaten more at the Doodle than the dining hall. [Beckwith’s] economic plan — his business plan — has not worked for well over five years, probably 10 years. He needs a bigger place.”
But that was 40 years ago. Today, few students could say the same.
Currently, there is no timeline set for the Doodle’s complete exit from its current location, and Iannuzzi is not pushing a specific deadline, he said. Iannuzzi said he has been in cordial contact with Beckwith to loosely discuss various logistical aspects of the moving-out process. But he said they have not yet breached the topic of the remaining debt the Doodle owes the landlords, though Iannuzzi made clear his negotiations will be directly with Beckwith and no one else.
“Really, the only person that I’m dealing with — and the only two responsible parties — is us, as the landlord, and Rick,” he said. “It’s a matter of resolving the things that need to be resolved, and everybody just moving on gracefully.”
Although outward tensions seem to have calmed since Tyco’s retraction of its two-month grace period last week, public sentiment in support of the Doodle is still steady, as evidenced by the continued growth of online “Save the Doodle” efforts.
Phillip McKee ’94, a Beckwith family friend and Doodle advocate, wrote in an e-mail that Iannuzzi is no longer allowing Beckwith access to the former Doodle location and “is now refusing to allow us access to that property and is instead consulting an attorney to try and seize that property … Their claim to the property stems from their continued insistence on collecting fees and penalties from the Doodle that were in their old lease agreement.”
After learning of these allegations, Iannuzzi countered that Beckwith had been on the property Wednesday night. The only items Beckwith wanted to take with him, Iannuzzi said, were two signs and the cigarette machine, which Iannuzzi requested he remove by next Tuesday. In terms of the attorney, Iannuzzi fully rejected the notion of any further legal involvement on his part.
Beckwith and his new advisors are in the process of developing a revised business plan.
Given the business structure under which the Doodle operated, its 12 stools worked eight-and-a-half hours a day, from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Under Lewis Beckwith Sr., the Doodle was open until 11 p.m., sometimes later, and his larger staff — Gould said he had a payroll of 18 people — allowed him to maintain longer hours.
“He was getting squeezed on the rent, no question about it,” Gould said. “[But] 12 seats don’t work anymore … it’s just a reality.”
Beckwith cited “economic considerations” in his closing note posted to the door of the Doodle, referring not only to the general hardship of the times but also to his specific inability to keep up with rent payments.
In fact, the seemingly abrupt closing of the Doodle happened under threat of eviction from the landlords. As began about a year ago, Beckwith had not been staying on track with the rent and Iannuzzi was forced to pull an eviction notice in the face of increasing late fees, Iannuzzi said. Last year, Beckwith paid back his debts, so Iannuzzi did not go through with the eviction, Iannuzzi said.
“It was the second time that there was an eviction notice … When you’re not paying your rent for several months … you need to pay your rent, or decide you can’t — but you can’t just continue to be there and collect your customers,” Iannuzzi said. “It became no more than a tenant-landlord relationship.”
Upon finding out he had until the first of February to pay off the debt, Beckwith decided to close the Doodle on Jan. 28, giving himself a few days to start moving things out.
The University is still committed to helping the New Haven institution find a new site. It has offered its cooperation in helping to identify a suitable property for the Doodle’s relocation, said Clarence Zachery, director of finance for University Properties. He said Beckwith and his advisers are “doing their due diligence,” drawing up a list of specific needs so the University can draw up a list of potential locations.
“They’ve bounced some ideas, but we’re not going to respond to those ideas until they … give us a list of what they need and want, and we’ll give them a list of things that fit their criteria, and see if it does work for them,” Zachery said. “We told them to take as much time as you need, we’re not going anywhere — [Yale has] been here for 300-plus years.”
“Save the Doodle” organizers said all of the new locations being considered charge significantly lower rent fees than the per-square-foot rate of its former Broadway space, and are also more modern and adhere to current building codes.
As of Tuesday, $4,538 had been garnered through various fundraising efforts.