A nearly half-decade-long quarrel between one of the world’s richest universities and two local restaurateurs may have reached its broiling point.
New Haven Superior Court Judge Juliett Crawford ruled Friday that Yale must follow through with a 2006 agreement made between the owners of College Street restaurant Bespoke and a representative of University Properties, which forced Yale to give the restaurant free-access rights to use the Yale-owned alley behind Bespoke. The lawsuit could potentially settle the ongoing quarrel between the two parties.
But University spokesman Tom Conroy told the News on Tuesday that Yale will appeal the decision.
Bespoke attorney Hugh Keefe said the judge’s decision marks a decisive victory for the defendants.
“It’s clearly a David vs. Goliath case,” Keefe told the Associated Press. “Sometimes David wins, which happened here. I think the judge saw through the hocus-pocus.”
In response, a Yale official who is familiar with the case said “Goliath” has rights too.
“David and Goliath stories are easy to write, but the University staff involved in this have nothing to gain personally,” the official said. “They are merely trying to protect the property of the University for future use.”
The restaurant owners, husband and wife Arturo and Suzette Franco-Camacho, are relieved about the decision, according to Arturo Franco-Camacho, but understand that the process is not over.
Since the beginning, Arturo Franco-Camacho said, the Franco-Camachos — who also own two burrito carts popular among students and, until it closed after a dispute with Yale this summer, the Chapel Street restaurant Roomba — have used much of their financial resources to continue with the trials over the disputed property. But the restaurant will not seek financial compensation from the University for legal fees now, he said, even with the appeal ahead of them.
“I’m sad we will keep going on [with the case], but I’m a little more relieved that the first part of the debate was done in a right and just way,” Arturo Franco-Camacho said Tuesday.
Conroy declined to comment further on the issue.
The conflict, which dates back to 2003, stemmed from a piece of land behind the restaurant, which includes a walkway leading to Bespoke’s back door, over which both parties claim to have ownership.
Yale purchased the back lot of the restaurant in 1999, but the restaurant owners have since tried to establish permanent rights to the walkway. In 2005, the University placed a metal gate in front of Bespoke’s back door along what the University said is their property border. The gate could only unlock from Yale’s side and was placed so close to the back door that the door could only open partially.
“If you put a fence, you’re claiming everything — you’re claiming the door, too,” Arturo Franco-Camacho said.
He said his restaurant’s claim has always been to assert its ownership of the back passage through “squatter’s rights” since University Properties had not done anything with the land for so long, even as others used it.
But in August 2006, former University Properties Director David Newton and the University’s lawyer in the case Tom Sansone entered Yale into an agreement with Bespoke. The agreement stated that the restaurant would have access to the alley and the shed in it for at least two years.
Yale, however, has since argued that the agreement was invalid because Newton and Sansone did not have authorization from University President Richard Levin or Vice President of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander to proceed with such agreements.
Suzette Franco-Camacho wrote in an e-mail presented to the courts in October that she had assumed the agreement had also been approved by Alexander.
Several weeks after the agreement was drafted and contested by Yale’s general counsel Dorothy Robinson, Newton stepped down. But several Yale officials said in the past that he planned his departure before the agreement was made.
With Friday’s ruling, Yale may be forced to heed the requests of Bespoke’s owners, who had long decried what they called Yale’s unfair practices in the conflict.
Now, the appeals process will delay the situation further.
In June 2007, Yale evicted the Franco-Camachos’ other restaurant, Roomba, which for two years did not have a permanent lease with University Properties, which owns that location in addition to Bespoke’s.
The Franco-Camachos claimed at the time that the University was unfairly converging the Roomba and Bespoke situations. Conroy said in a June interview that the closing was prompted by the dispute with the owners over the Bespoke property.
Bespoke opened in 2006 as part of a boom in the Chapel Street District’s culinary opportunities in what Newton said marked a rejuvenation of New Haven’s downtown area.