Bespoke and Yale continue legal battle

A years-long legal battle between the University and the owners of local restaurant Bespoke progressed further this month, and could potentially force the owners to sell their restaurant.

The conflict dates back to 2002, when both Yale and Bespoke claimed ownership over a sliver of land behind the restaurant. When a settlement signed by both parties fell through — because Yale questioned the authority of those who signed the settlement on its behalf — University administrators filed a lawsuit. But the settlement was upheld in trial court last year.

So Yale lawyers appealed the decision, and earlier this month, engaged in oral arguments with Bespoke’s lawyers before an appellate court. They now await the court’s decision.

The current case revolves around the legal concept of “apparent authority”: whether Bespoke’s owners were meant to believe that the Yale affiliates who brokered the initial settlement — former Associate Vice President and University Properties Director David Newton and third-party lawyer Tom Sansone — actually had the authority to make decisions on behalf of the University.

Yale purchased the back lot of the restaurant in 1999, but the Bespoke owners — Suzette Franco-Camacho and her husband, Arturo — 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 its property border. The gate could only unlock from Yale’s side and was placed so close to Bespoke’s back door that it could only open partially.

In the beginning, the Bespoke owners had tried to assert their ownership of the back passage through “squatter’s rights,” Arturo Franco-Camacho said in 2008. Because University Properties had not done anything with the land for so long, he explained at the time, they felt it was theirs. Later, in August 2006, the owners worked with Newton and Sansone to put themselves into an official agreement with Yale.

But upon hearing about the agreement, Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander ’65 rejected it outright, and the courts must now determine whether Newton or Sansone had the “apparent authority” to negotiate such a deal.

Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said the settlement has “clouded” Yale’s property rights to the land, adding that University officials want to ensure that they can never be “in a position where [their] legal choices on how to use the property are diminished or blocked.”

Conroy also said the University had offered the Franco-Camachos a license agreement that would have ensured Yale had all possible property rights. But the Bespoke owners refused to sign it because, as they argued in the briefs, they would lose their ability to defend themselves against any University decision that could harm the restaurant.

The lawsuit has taken a toll on the owners: They are considering leaving New Haven — and their restaurant, Bespoke. (University Properties evicted their old restaurant, Roomba, in 2007.) Because of lawsuit expenses and the current economic climate, the owners said they are in a rut from which they will never recover. They said they have already started to pursue buyers for Bespoke’s building, which they currently own.

Suzette Franco-Camacho said the bickering between Yale and Bespoke has since become a stalemate, adding that the appellate court’s decision is unlikely to change anything. Regardless of which party the judges’ ruling favors, it is likely the other will appeal to the state Supreme Court. Yale officials said they want to keep all of their property rights; Bespoke officials said they deserve access for their customers.

The Franco-Camachos said they plan on pursuing the lawsuit until the end: “It’s our intention to see it completely through,” Suzette Franco-Camacho said.

And she expects Yale to follow suit, she said. The University started the lawsuit, so its officials will likely continue the arguments up to the stateSupreme Court, she said.

Conroy declined to speculate on what the University would do. “The strong hope is to be successful in the appeal,” he said last week. “But let’s wait for that decision before disseminating any next steps.”

Although the appellate judges are not tied to a specific deadline, Bespoke owner Suzette Franco-Camacho said she expects them to rule on the case within the next two to four months.

Comments

  • Alex

    This dispute goes back to the grand opening of Roomba when Yale VP, Bruce Alexander, was not given his requested seating because Roomba was full to capacity. Instead he and his party had to sit at a banquet style table and he was pissed. Since then he has had it out for Franco and Suzette and has made their life hell as revenge. Yale should cooperate with the community not wage war on them. What’s wrong with letting them have the access they need. Will it kill Yale? No certainly not. This is sick!

  • Roomba lover

    This is s sad situation all around. In what world does it make sense for Yale to assert their property rights so strongly as to hound out one of New Haven’s best restauranteurs and his family out of the city?

    While perhaps the Franco-Camachos may have unwisely pursued court action, it is downright depressing that Yale canceled Rhumba’s lease (a space which they have since left empty for two years!!) and now seem to want this back alley so much that they are willing to do the same indirectly to Bespoke.

    Is Bruce Alexander THAT powerful that there is no one else who sees what a fool’s errand this is? Even if Yale wins, they loses. How distressing.

  • A yale faculty member

    I am ashamed to work at Yale when I read about this case. The failure of Yale to reach a compromise with the Franco-Camacho’s is ridiculous. The Franco-Camacho’s are an important part of this community and people who work at Yale depend on them. Shameful.

  • former customer

    I loved their food, but will never patronize their restaurant again. Unbelieveable attitude and rudeness from the owners of a restaurant whose BUSINESS is customer service makes me wonder what the whole story is here. I’m not at all surprised that they’ve ended up in the middle of a legal battle. If their treatment of paying customers is any indication of their attitude and behavior in other business dealings, I’m not surprised at all.

  • Hieronymus

    This is one of the uncommon instances where I side with the restaurant owner.

    That said: to the self-proclaimed “ashamed” faculty member: Ashamed? BullShi’a! If you are so ashamed then, by all means, step away from the faculty. No? Not *that* ashamed? Hypocrite.

  • Bespoke Patron

    I wish Bruce Alexander a LIFETIME of never getting what he wants. Bespoke is such an amazing restaurant it would be more than upsetting to see them leave because, ultimately, some pompous horse’s behind did not get his way. In this economy, who does it benefit to see another vacant building and yet another family in financial ruins? Who Bruce? You tell me?

  • ha

    ahahaha. Maybe Yale wants to put in another fine caliber restaurant such as Au Bon Pain or Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts! That’s got to be it. They want another DD on the premises.

    My god, Yale. You just have NO IDEA.

  • I Miss Roomba

    I sorely miss Roomba, having had some great memories there – sure, sometimes the service was snotty and rude, but the vast majority of the time it was absolutely fantastic, as was the food.

    … More to the point, though, with all this talk of cost-savings, can we fire a few Yale lawyers and execs? We needn’t be wasting money on this sort of nonsense. I bet you’d be hard pressed to find a few ‘normal’ people who side with Yale on this issue.

  • Loves downtown New Haven

    The situation is childish. Years ago, I couldn’t believe Yale would rather have a vacant space (Roomba) versus working things out with the owners, who brought TONS of people and therefore dollars, into downtown for their food. And now the nonsense continues around the corner at Bespoke. Where’s the great town and gown relationship that Levin proudly speaks of???

  • A Patron

    How disturbing that Yale is pulling its strong arm once again on people trying to make a living.

    So, they bully the restaurant owners to regretfully close down one of the best restaurants (Roomba) in New Haven, and the owners still have to deal with the nonsense of Yale.

    Yale cares about money….. Bottom line.

    As for Bruce Alexander….get over yourself…. I have a question I usually like to ask of people…” If you lost everything material as well as your money, what would you have left?”….I’ll surmise, not much.

    The “Powers that be” at Yale ought to be ashamed of themselves. Perhaps they would be better suited spending their money on cameras for security in the lab that a recent student was found dead in.

  • bespoke fan

    Putting up a metal gate which prohibits a small business to open the back door? Really? wtf. Is this not a safety concern. Petty, childish thing to do.

  • Disgusted

    I just finished reading an article (USA Today) about how small businesses may play a large role in helping the economy. Can’t both parties come to some sort of agreement about a sliver of land that most of us in the community don’t even realize exists.

    Aren’t there bigger community issues to be concerned about?

  • Anonymous Diva

    I am disheartened by the trivial nature of this case and the lack of resolution after all this time.

    I think Bespoke is one of New Haven’s hidden treasures, and one of the few restaurant in the area that is truly diva-worthy. The food is outstanding, the service is always commendable and the ambience is chic and glamorous yet inviting. I would hate to lose this gem of a restaurant and see this area of New Haven overturned by Hula Hankers, underage club-goers and pubs.

  • steve

    I credit the Franco-Camacho’s for singlehandley reviving the downtown New Haven dining experience through their creation of Rhoomba – not only was Rhoomba a culinary delight, but it was consistent in sparking interest and loyalty in the local dining community. community. The prospect of them closing Bespoke is truly sad, and maddening – but lets not forget it’s Yale we’re dealing with, and their endless addiction to power through litigiousness.

  • No longer a Yale fan

    What has happened to the working relationship between the city and the school. That one small person should have this authority is beyond the pale. Roomba and Bespoke are 2 of the most unique restaurants I’ve ever had the pleasure to frequent. This is sad, very sad.

  • Dan

    Yale ought to be bending over backwards to keep top-notch places like Roomba and Bespoke in downtown New Haven.

  • NYC resident

    This is ridiculous. Yale should drop the suit immediately or I am not giving them any money this year (and I am in the top bracket, supposedly, for my class).

  • yalie

    I echo the comments of #4. The food at Bespoke was good, but the service and attitude of the staff was horrendous.

    Good riddance.

  • Vulgar Display of Power

    There is a social responsibility that the powers of Yale seem to curtail. Soon there will be no character left in New Haven except for the University itself. It is important for people with such power and wealth to remember what real class is and the huge responsibility that comes with wealth and political clout. This entire situation is really sad and makes Yale look petty and immature. This is an institution that claims itself as a non profit religious entity yet behaves as an exploitative tyrant.

  • med

    Food = amazing
    Service = wonderful
    Yale = pathetic

    stop bullying small businesses! it’s a couple feet of land, get over it. go build something on the west campus

  • New Haven Resident and Yale Employee

    Yale should be ashamed of their actions. They might have the legal right to do what they’ve done, but it’s extremely short sighted, and a slight to New Haven and it’s community, not to mention the owners. Shameful.

  • Regular Guy

    Bespoke totally sucks!! Yale is doing everyone a favor if they send these guys packing. If we’re lucky they will leave and we will finally get a Chipotle in that location!!!

    Oh, and Rumba sucked even more.

  • Ashamed of Yale

    This must be personal and / or related to power and ego.

    How else can one rationally drive the most brilliant restaurateurs out of New Haven?

    Whatever the tiny issue at hand (a matter of a few square feet even?) we owe them a debt of gratitude for facilitating the ‘renaissance’ over the past years in New Haven.

    They are truly talented people with an amazing work ethic. Please leave them be!

    -PM

  • anonymous

    It is sad and shamefule to see such pettiness. Bespoke is a welcome addition to the New Haven community and as a small business its success should be nurtured and encouraged by the likes of Yale University, not forced to close its doors.

  • contempt proliferates

    No wonder there’s such a town-gown divide. Fueling bad feeling against Yale as an organization by bullying local businesses also doesn’t bode well for the general safety of its community members.

  • Alex

    This is the most public case. However, if you could get the Yale restaurant and retail tenants downtown to speak openly and honestly without fear of reprisal you would find that many of them have been victims of similar bullying by Yale VP Bruce Alexander and his cohorts over the past ten years. But they know if they speak out they will suffer harassment and possible loss of their leases and businesses.

  • frustrated

    Can’t we get Ernesto Zedillo to duke it out with Yale on this? I heard he is a fan of Bespoke!!!

    Yale. YOU ARE FULL OF KIDS AND FACULTY WITH MONEY WHO WANT NICE PLACES TO GO. I know that you are trying to divert some of the people who really know their food to the Yale-affiliated (owned?) restaurant in the Study Hotel and Union League. But the thing is, the neighborhood is better with MORE restaurants. More, more, more. If you want to compete with independent businesses like Bespoke or steal their business somehow, then do the “free market” approach. Genuinely raise the caliber and design of the businesses you own or are profiting from. Yale, you and New Haven are chock full of smart people who can see your BS a mile away. Don’t try to pull this one over on us. It won’t work, we will notice and be pissed.

  • University Properties in a Bully

    Big corporate bully’s go away. Let small business thrive. We don’t need a Chipotle in downtown New Haven, we need more small businesses and more hardworking INDIVIDUALS to get our city to reach its full potential!

    Yale has a responsibility to New Haven to support its small businesses. Has anything moved into the Roomba space? Does any of this make any true long term financial sense for the city?

  • Rich

    Bespoke makes New Haven a better place to live and work and on many fronts. First and foremost it gives us locals a wonderful place to enjoy a truly great dining experience. Whether the dining is for a business function or simply to enjoy a night out with friends, the evening is usually shared with people from outside of New Haven. The guests that we bring to Bespoke and the former Roomba leave town with a new-found love for our city. The Franco-Camachos have created a place that we can share with those from afar and be proud of New Haven and what this great little city has to offer. It is the Franco-Camachos who took the risk years ago to create something that this city sorely lacked. Their success has led many other restauranteurs to view New Haven as a vibrant place with great potential, which is a far cry from the scene we all experienced in the late 80’s and early 90’s when few were willing to invest their own capital and hard work into a venture downtown. The Franco-Camachos leaving New Haven would be a blow to all the business’ in the city. It is partly because of them that we have so many other great places to dine. I wish Yale would get over this,look at the big picture and realize that having Bespoke in town makes New Haven a better place for us locals, other business entities and the entire Yale community.

  • Bill

    I lived in New Haven (downtown)for three years..I met Suzette and Franco while they were opening Bespoke..They created perhaps the best downtown restaurant in New Haven..I couldn’t wait to bring out of towners to Bespoke for a great dining experience…It is clear to me that Yale can’t see the benefit of a wonderful restaurant that only adds to New Haven and Yale…

  • A Former Yale Fan

    I used to defend Yale when folks would badmouth the institution. I really thought that the presence of Yale only enhanced New Haven. Now I am outraged at Yale’s pettiness and bullheadedness in this sorry dispute. Suzette and Franco are wonderful people, talented and devoted to their business. They are also generous and community oriented. Their restaurants have been amazingly successful and it would be such a loss to New Haven to have them bullied out of town by Yale. What is Yale gaining by sticking to their petty guns? I thought this silly dispute was over and done with and am shocked that it still has not gone away! Is there anything that can be done to support the Franco-Camachos?

  • Community minded

    There is nothing like the taste of a mojito on the Bespoke rooftop! The ambiance, food, and service make for a perfect way to enjoy an evening out in New Haven. Losing this restaurant would be a tangible loss to the city – a city whose rejuvenation Yale supposedly supports. I can’t imagine that Yale lawyers cannot find a mutually workable solution to the issue of access to the restaurant. I was born in New Haven and grew up with the notion that “Yale” was synonymous with “intelligence.” Apparently I had the wrong word. It should have been “arrogance.”

  • truly amazed….

    I think that the issue of who’s right and who’s wrong has become irrelevant. The fact is that even IF the Camachos have no legal right to that pimple of real estate, to essentially drive them out of business after all of the work they have put into their restaurants goes beyond any sensibilities, all egos notwithstanding. I don’t care what you might think about their food, the staff’s attitude, the prices, whatever….their presence downtown is an unqualified asset to New Haven – period. We’ve watched local merchants in Yale buildings get shafted time and time again in favor of national chains that have begun to make downtown New Haven’s retail community increasingly bland and soulless, and given the current economy, the odds of anyone of the caliber of the Camachos opening another upscale restaurant would be remote at best.
    While I realize that this is not a City of New Haven issue, isn’t it about time to get Mayor DeStefano involved???…or does he not want to piss of Yale????

  • a fan of Bespoke

    This is a clear cut case of how the privileged Yale believes they are entitled to it all… Bespoke is a mainstay for theater goers, fine dining seekers, and just an incredible, amazing restuarant/bar all together. To close this restuarant would be a grave loss to the city of New Haven. Think long and hard, Yale, about the face you would like to put forth in our community. Might does not make right.

  • Yale 08

    Yale has made a fair and reasonable proposal here that would grant Bespoke continued use of its back door — it’s hard to be sympathetic to the owners if they voluntarily litigate themselves into financial ruin over something as insipid as title to a sliver of land. Although there would be more reason for outrage if Yale forced Bespoke into litigation, fact of the matter is Yale wants to help this business, which — unlike countless other small businesses in New Haven that Yale has helped — is failing to be cooperative in response to an issue that Yale has raised.

  • Jane Lee

    Sounds like a fair agreement can be reached — always some compromise. Bespoke is a valued part of the community (yum) and I hope both Yale and the restaurant can find mutual ground — even if just a sliver.

  • Alex

    Yale 08 you are wrong – How has Yale made a fair and reasonable proposal when they put a barrier across their rear egress? Bespoke needs access to the land as a fire exit. Because it has not been granted, they have had to construct a corridor inside the building allowing another exit out the front. This takes up a tremendous amount of room in a very narrow building. also they could use the rear entrance to load into the restaurant. Yale has never been fair and reasonable with them since Roomba opened! There is so much more to this story and their bullying by Yale and VP Bruce Alexander that it would make a great book!

  • thinking outloud

    I don’t think that any of the people making comments have a full understanding of the situation – and have decided to base their response to the situation on the merits of the business. My guess – most people who have an opportunity to eat there, have varying degrees of a wonderful meal. But that isn’t the point- the issue is one of land ownership, the assumption of squatter’s rights and legal ownership and access. It is a property dispute – nothing else. This is mine, this is yours. If I owned property that my neighbor decided was theirs -because they wanted it – I would not be happy either. I know it feels personal – that’s because people are involved. But in the end, this is an issue of property ownership, and the assumption that the neighbors have made that because they want it – it should be theirs. But they don’t own it, I guess that was a problem they should have considered with their real estate broker.

  • wrong info thinking aloud

    Actually, you are missing the point all together. There was a mutual agreement by way of a judgment that was entered into by both parties in Aug 06, land issues had already been mutually agreed to. After making the legally binding agreement, Yale changed its mind and decided to disregard the law and the legally binding agreement they freely entered into. My understanding is that instead of agreeing to meet and discuss as was requested many times (including in the newspaper), Yale declined and sued these folks again. And after an extended trial, the judge didn’t buy it and upheld the earlier agreement, so instead of accepting that, they appealed the decision. What is remarkable in reading through the documents, is that instead of putting blame where blame is due (Yale, their official and Legal team that single handedly are responsible for the outcome) they have continually persecuted these people who did nothing wrong (by Yale’s own court admission). The transcripts speak for themselves. Their attorney changed his story multiple times exposing himself to malpractice exposure and Dorothy Robinson called his behavior “egregious”Instead of suing the lawyer they claim screwed up, they gave him more work- all in the transcripts….This is all smoke and mirrors, oh yeah and the agreement offered “Yale has made a fair and reasonable proposal here that would grant Bespoke continued use of its back door ” Continued use suggests permanent. That was never the case. The offers they made all included a convenient out, basically we can make this null and void whenever we want, essentially giving nothing. Yale’s claim in all of this is that everything should be null and void because their head of properties and legal council of over 5 years had no authority- the judge who accepted the deal certainly believed they did, why else would someone go to court.

  • thinking outloud, too

    If I owned an area of land half the size of New Haven and someone in the area -a valued member of the community- had a disagreement about the property, I’d probably talk it out with them and settle on something. Oh, right, they did, via Associate Vice President and University Properties Director David Newton. And if this agreement was then upheld in court, which it was, and I was wrestling with a million other more important things and only succeeding in aggravating the community, I’d probably apologize, let it go, and tackle the things that are actually important.

    Clearly, I’m not well suited for management.

  • Bespoke and Roomba Lover

    As this article suggests at the very root of this legal battle is the legal concept of “Apparent Authority”. What seems to be readily “apparent” to a casual observer of this situation, in most simplistic terms, is the concept that the “Associate Vice President and Property director” DID have the authority to broker the original agreement. This person was clearly acting on behalf of the Yale institution along with their many lawyers. This is a clear case of “welching” on an original agreement.

    This institution has the luxury of looking at potential property use of this sliver of land for the next 100 years, and has the money and the power to grind hard working small business people into the ground through an endless and unnecessarily expensive appeals process.

    Who clearly does not win in this situation are the people who look forward to having out of towners fall in love with this downtown area by taking them to a unique treasure like Bespoke.

    For people who say in this discussion that this is not personal, but just an issue of property rights; I say shame on you. These are real people, real people of this community who invested with great risk in this area. These are real people who enjoy and frequent these restaurants. Yale should drop this lawsuit immediately and honor their original agreement that was entered into giving the Franco-Camacho’s free access to this sliver of land. This is the outcome that would honor Yale tradition of fairness and decency. Not to mention the hard working people of his community who gladly patronize this wonderful restaurant.

    And remember, nobody likes a bully. If Yale persists in driving hard working small business people out of this area who think out of the box, all that will be left are the corporate franchises. Who wants to visit that city?

    Terminating the lease on Roomba was shamefull. If Yale persists in driving the close of Bespoke, it would be downright despicable, along with judges who would allow it to happen.

  • sir lancelot

    Not one person is talking about the fact that Yale doesn’t pay taxes to the city of New Haven, the Camachos Do pay taxes and DO give new haveners great jobs and incredible training, besides incredible fare, quality standards and lessons in economics, in this struggling economy a ” mom and pop” restaurant has blossomed into a franchise unlike New Haven hasn’t seen in many a year, yet creativity, and ” The pursuit of hapiness” is something that in the eyes of Yale is incomprehensible, for an institution the which elected a few presidents to act as the despots and tyrants of lands faraway and to showe the world its unfriendly and closemindedness even if of a free accord both parties had come to a place where level heads prevailed then to renege in a legally binding contract, those are all signs of a giant the which is loosing its mind……Not sad just the beginning of doubt for many people in town and beyond and the fairness process in a democratic country and the loss of respect for a giant which cares not about success by others besides its’ own, that is pitiful at best…….

  • Someone who knows the facts

    The Franco-Camachos have only defended themselves after Yale put a fence up at their backdoor. Yale had given access to this backdoor for emergency access to every other owner to this building dating back to the 1920s. The truth is Yale wanted to purchase this building for themselves but the Franco-Camachos had a first right of refusal contract on it. Yale even tried to purchase the building from the prior owner disregarding the contract that the Franco-Camachos had with the previous owner. Yale wants to own the building so they are trying to make the Franco-Camachos go broke. Yale keeps initiateing lawsuits & appeals forcing the Franco-Camachos to defend themselves and that is what this is all about!

  • Yale 08

    Alex, try reading the article more carefully:

    “Conroy also said the University had offered the Franco-Camachos a license agreement that would have ensured Yale had all possible property rights. But the Bespoke owners refused to sign it because, as they argued in the briefs, they would lose their ability to defend themselves against any University decision that could harm the restaurant.”

    Unless you’re a fan of socialism and/or zero property rights, there is little to suggest that Yale has been anything but accommodating given its rights.