Debt deepens at Mory’s

Managers and patrons of Mory’s, New Haven’s time-honored club, are now facing the harsh reality that tradition, on its own, may not be enough to sustain the Yale-exclusive institution.

Earlier this week, the News reported that Mory’s is in the process of updating its look and feel to become more student-friendly and prevent itself from becoming “the next Doodle,” club manager Jim Shumway said. But tax forms and interviews with alumni suggest that the club’s financial situation is more dire than it previously seemed.

Mory’s 990 tax form for 2006 showed that the club spent $1,392,576 and only earned $1,224,340 — a loss of nearly $170,000.

The Yale Alumni Magazine’s September/October edition reported on the Mory’s financial crisis in its cover story, “Will Mory’s survive (And should it?).”

But Shumway denied that the debt is a cause for concern, since the club struggles to make a profit more often than not. The real issue, he said, is that in the past five years, the net loss has not been recouped through the gifts and dues of club members, which was always the case before. Shumway said Mory’s, which has a reputation as an elite, old-fashioned eatery, has failed to cultivate a loyal following among recent Yale graduates.

“Now we have lost a lot of potential young alums,” he said. “We are going to have to try to get them back.”

At the same time, though, Mory’s is also trying to galvanize its older members.

Club President Cheever Tyler ’59 sent a letter to alumni members this June pleading for money gifts, but he took an additional, unprecedented step. He asked lifetime members, who make up around three-fourths of Mory’s 15,000-person membership base, to change their status to annual dues-paying members. Lifetime members, who in the “old days” paid Mory’s a lump sum of $10 to $15 for membership, have traditionally been exempt from annual dues.

The $275 per year dues are voluntary for lifetime members who want to “help keep Mory’s afloat,” Tyler said.

Alumni response to the proposal was mixed. “We have had some alums to switch,” Shumway said. “A number of them have said that they’d rather send a contribution. Some of them said no.”

Tyler said the letter was misinterpreted by many members who thought that the dues were now mandatory, and he plans to send out a clarification letter later this month.

And there are the employees. Mory’s staff is one of the few restaurants in New Haven with a unionized staff — a perk that grants wait staff medical benefits, pension plans and disability insurance among other benefits. Tax forms show Mory’s labor expenditures accounted for $904,942 of its $1,224,340 in revenue for 2006.

Shumway said negotiations with the union, however helpful to the club, does not offset yearly rate increases.

Mory’s workers are members of local union 217. Local union 35 President Bob Proto said Mory’s long tradition with the union is part of its success as an establishment.

“Mory’s has been a tradition,” he said. “And part of that tradition was always having top-quality service people in there.”

Perhaps the most pressing struggle for Mory’s, though, is that it is no longer the place to see and be seen. Unlike in decades past, Yalies now have a choice between dozens of restaurants that aim to attract a young clientele.

“I can’t compete with the burrito cart,” Shumway said.

In response, Mory’s management has hired consultants to help the club implement changes. The club has already instituted several changes, including longer hours on the weekends, a relaxed dress code during lunchtime and wi-fi Internet access for members in the upstairs area in the afternoons. The Mory’s menu has also been evolving, as Shumway aims to create a “pub-style” menu for later hours with items like wings and calamari. But he plans to keep the traditional menu items that are unique to the club.

“If I ever tried to take Welsh rarebit or baker’s soup of the menu, I’d be shot,” he said.

But even facing impending financial crisis, Shumway said he remains cognizant that tradition is paramount and the membership program will always be indispensable. When asked whether he would rather watch the private club open its doors to a wider public and change beyond recognition or shut it down, Shumway said he does not have a choice.

“If we cease to operate as a private club, we will cease to exist,” he said.

Comments

  • Rarebit

    If the welsh rarebit were edible… oh, nevermind. I only ever went there for the cups, and I'll only ever go there for the cups.

  • Reap Sow

    Unimaginative, overpriced, and poorly executed food; surly but otherwise characterless service; ridiculous recent hike in dues; and management by committee (elderly sentimentalists, young fogies, and union shop…wow!). Bon chance.

  • goldie '08

    In its present form, Mory's is an anachronism. No current students will ever want to go there except with their teams/clubs to get drunk, and that happens only once or twice a year per group, max. When the crew team stopped in for drinks 150 years ago, it was a divey pub, and that's what it should be again. A true Yale pub. Put in a nice wooden bar. Get some friendly bartenders. Keep the decor on the walls. Get a jukebox and a TV and still serve cups. That way a group of 3-4 students could go get cups on a whim rather than planning such an event months in advance, as we currently have to now. If we had a bar like that on campus I would have gone to drink their every night. Think Richters only friendlier to Yalies. Maybe Convert the upstairs into a fancier dining room for the old farts who want to "keep mory's mory's." But we can all clearly see that's not working.

  • Anonymous

    In regard to Mory's, we have a big country with graduates all over the place (as well as other countries). I might suggest that Mory's might try franchising as a way to increase revenue as well as to bring the name to the forefront once more. Surely this could be done in a thoughtful manner without jeopardizing the original and unique Mory's at Yale itself.

  • Susie Q.

    Mory's will never be Mory's, ever again. It's been going downhill especially during these last few years. Why? Not only is the student population not interested in stuffy tradition, but there are wonderful restaurants in New Haven to choose from. And, the place is poorly managed. It's time for serious change, more than what's in this article.

  • Yale senior

    I can't believe all the apathy. I personally love the traditions that come with Yale, and Mory's is one of those traditional places. The food's edible, and it's not as expensive as say, Union League. It's a shame no one appreciates tradition anymore

  • DPort 10

    How ironic is it that people wanted to save a hamburger joint with the worst hamburgers in New Haven with an owner that's currently scamming fundraisers?

    Mory's is a Yale tradition, and maybe students should give it a chance.

  • Cole Boyl

    The place is closed most of June,July and August. It looks like a small place from the outside ,what's upstairs ? operating budget of What ? Anyways, it does look cool.Maybe they do need a change or two as someone mentioned. I see Ketchup on the table so that's a good start

  • Accountant

    Ah, the beauty of a liberal arts education. It always struck be that everyone should take an economics course before being allowed to graduate. I now think a basic bookkeeping course may be warranted as well.

    First, I want to congratulate the columnist for correctly identifying the difference between revenues and expenses in the third paragraph as a "loss" which, of course, is what it is.

    However, paragraph 5, as well as the headline suggest that the $170,000 loss is "debt". It isn't. Aside from the fact that losses are income statement items and debt is a balance sheet item, the loss, while it might have been funded by borrowing money (i.e. incurring debt), it might also have been funded by drawing previously earned or contributed money out of the business's bank account (i.e. reducing equity). Or, perhaps, it was funded by equity contributions from members. But the loss is not, by definition, debt.

    Also, in paragraph 12, it is noted that "Mory’s labor expenditures accounted for $904,942 of its $1,224,340 in revenue for 2006". Uh, no…labor is an expense, not revenue. It accounted for $904,942 of its $1,392,576 in expenses.

    I know this post was unnecessarily pedantic however it discourages me that people might graduate from Yale without the ability to comprehend articles in the Wall Street Journal or have some clue as to how businesses operate.

  • Recent Alum

    When Yale keep recruiting far-left liberals with no interest in or respect for Yale traditions, it is not surprising that institutions like Mory's suffer.

  • Y09

    Anyone who says Mory's food is awful has clearly never tried Baker's Soup. The traditions are very much worth preserving, and anyone who scoffs at Old Yale culture but nevertheless continues to attend the institution is grossly hypocritical.

    I agree that the atmosphere has changed, and therefore so must Mory's to survive. As others have mentioned, it is not the only place in town to eat anymore. By all means keep the cups and the crew photos on the wall and remain a bastion for Yale traditionalism… but don't remain above wider advertising and some bar-style attractions.

    I don't think Yale's liberal slant has much to do with the Mory's decline; the wealthy, historically-inclined left loves it just as much as conservatives. The changing socioeconomic scene, however, means the otherwise-at-state-school kids are oblivious to its existence, nature and appeal.

  • Hope but not Optimism

    I wonder if the oft cited change in student is merely a symptom and that the real difficulty is something Mory's can do little about. As pointed out in the YAM article, one big change has been the increase in Connecticut's drinking age and that most Yale undergraduates are not legally able to drink at Mory's. Here's what I remember from Mory's as an undergraduate in the early 80s, going to Mory's for random now-long-forgotten "occasions" and never for the food which I, perhaps unsurprisingly, have no memory of whatsoever. The cups weren't that good either, but the singing and the atmosphere were quite memorable and unique. Part this, was the alcohol. If you can't drink there, it seems inevitable that the popularity of the place declines. This has nothing to with the dress code -- having to put on a jacket was part of what made the experience different for example from Rudy's, part of what made a visit an occasion. And as I said earlier this has nothing to do with the food or all the new New Haven restaurants (and btw Pepe's, perhaps the best New Haven has to offer was around then) - nobody in the old days went for the food, nobody said "hey, a bunch of us are going over to Mory's …for the rarebit." It's not the prices -- believe me, those cups were not a small expense for a student in the 80's either. It's not that Mory's is stodgy and an anachronism - again that was also the case in the 80's and I suspect even more so in the 70's, the stodginess and anachronistic feel we central parts of making the experience attractive -- again we could have spent less, had no dress code, been less stodgy at Rudy's or places like Fitzwilly's that long dead fern bar, we went for the stodge. This is true in such places as the NY City Yale Club -- few go for the food (unless someone else is paying), but drinks on the roof, good view, recharging your stores of elitism…. It's not clearly not the management, who seem earnest and enlightened (a union shop for goodness sake). Moreover, I suspect Mory's makes more on those cups than most of the food they serve and the loss of student sales due to the drinking age must hurt all the more for it. The drinking and associated experience are what always brought students in and what got them to come back. Unfortunately, the drinking age increase may slowly choking off Mory's supply of students and therefore alumni. I'm not sure that problem has a solution unfortunately. That's why I look on the proposed changes with some sadness and not a small bit dread. Does anyone really believe wi-fi or longer hours are going to save that wonderful place? So I'm hopeful but not optimistic that Mory's saves itself from an unforseen consequence o the drinking age increases.

  • '05

    Commenter #3 was on point here. I went to Mory's relatively often compared to other graduates in the 2000s. Relatively often means probably about 5 times per year. Mory's was not a place you could stop into on a whim. You had to make reservations in advance, get a group together, get dressed up (students just don't dress up any more unless they have to, but neither does the rest of society), etc. I walked past Mory's twice a day at least, but it wasn't possible to just pop in.

    There are probably 50 restaurants or more within close walking distance now. Thai, Indian, latin american, spanish, sushi, african, etc., etc. Back in the day, these restaurants didn't exist. A lot of these restaurants are very good. It's unlikely that many students or recent graduates, even those who love it, will go to Mory's in its current state more than 2 to 5 times per year.

    I don't think wi-fi will do it.

    At least in one of the downstairs rooms, Richter's with cups is a good idea. The cups are a big novelty. Everyone loves the cups. Put in a TV, have a bar. This doesn't have to be the whole restaurant, but there is space to make one of the rooms like this. Maybe either the front room in the downstairs or the back room in the downstairs.

    Expand hours a lot. Get rid of the dresscode. The early hours were also a big deterrent to going to Mory's. Students aren't ready to go out from 7:30 to 9:30. You don't want to start drinking that early. Better to go out around 9:30 or 10.

    Allow all students to be members automatically. You can get in with your student ID. Only alumni should be forced to get a membership.

  • Tyler

    I would love to see Mory's continue and thrive. They're a great Yale tradition.

    But come on. They have the worst service of any restaurant I have ever been to in my entire life. If they want to remain financially viable, they have to prove to the student body that they're more than just a tradition. They have to actually make decent food and serve it in under an hour. Which I don't see happening any time soon.

  • Morsel

    A lot of these comments are on point - Mory's may be a great tradition, but it takes more than that to get me to empty my wallet for sub-par food and sorry service. Add to that the impediment that you have to become a "member" (automatically cutting down a lot of service - it may not be difficult to do, but most of the students I know here haven't bothered). The alcohol laws don't help either.

    I think the bottom line is, many present students (myself included) don't see enough in Mory's to attract us to it. The cups are fun, but the average Yale Student who isn't part of a group with enough money to make it a tradition may never experience it in his or her four years here.

  • Still Interested

    “I can’t compete with the burrito cart,” Shumway said.

    This remark is further evidence that Mory's, as currently managed, is doomed. How is it that the manager could even think that he is competing with a burrito cart, much less say it? Clueless. . . The entire board should resign.Those responsible for Mory's failure could not possibly be stewards of a successful resuscitation.

  • Interested

    Mory’s workers are members of local union 217. Local union 35 President Bob Proto said Mory’s long tradition with the union is part of its success as an establishment.

    “Mory’s has been a tradition,” he said. “And part of that tradition was always having top-quality service people in there.”

    Mr Proto has obviously never been served by Mory's sullen wait staff.