Despite a state appeals court ruling last week granting a College Street restaurant access to Yale-owned land, its owners have packed up and left the city.
The owners of Bespoke, Arturo Franco-Camacho and his wife, Suzette, were locked in a years-long battle with the University over a tiny vacant lot behind the restaurant. Last Monday, the appeals court ruled that Yale could not back out of a land use agreement it signed with the owners in August 2006, but the pair have sold both the building and left the restaurant, Suzette Franco-Camacho said. The owners are now planning to open two new restaurants in Branford.
Although the new restaurant will keep the name “Bespoke” for now, it will have a new chef. It will continue to run under the ownership of Lauren Kendzierski and chef Yousef Ghalaini.
“What saddens me most is that [the dispute] should have been easily resolved,” Suzette Franco-Camacho said.
Yale officials purchased the lot in 1999, but the Bespoke owners tried to establish the right to use the walkway leading out the back door, as well as a shed that is physically attached to the building and on Yale-owned land. Originally, since Yale had not done anything with the property for years, the Bespoke owners could assert the right to use the walkway and the shed, Arturo Franco-Camacho told the News last September.
But in 2005, Yale officials installed a metal gate along what the University considered its property border. The gate could only be unlocked from Yale’s side, and it was placed so close to the back door that it could only be opened one foot.
In August 2006, former Director of University Properties David Newton and third-party lawyer Tom Sansone signed an agreement with the restaurateurs that would give them access to the lot for at least two years. Upon learning of the agreement, Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander ’65 rejected it, arguing that Newton and Sansone lacked the authority to negotiate the deal on Yale’s behalf.
The University suit to throw out the agreement has so far proved unsuccessful. Two out of the three judges on the appellate panel agreed with a 2008 New Haven Superior Court ruling that Newton and Sansone had the “apparent authority” to represent Yale in the agreement, making it legally binding.
Yale plans to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court, Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said Sunday. He said in September that Yale is simply trying to avoid “a position in which its legal choices on how to use the property are diminished or blocked.” In the e-mail, Conroy wrote that there are no immediate plans for Yale’s vacant lot behind Bespoke.
University Associate Vice President and University Properties Director Abigail Rider declined to comment.
Meanwhile, the couple — whose other restaurant, Roomba, was evicted by Yale in 2007 as part of the ongoing legal conflict — has said its farewell to the city.
Suzette Franco-Camacho said a combination of the loss of Roomba, the expensive renovations they made to accommodate the loss of their back door and the heavy emotional toll of years of litigation led them to seek a new beginning in Branford.
“The excitement and energy I felt coming to New Haven in 1999 is missing now,” she said. “We’re sad because it should have been a great relationship.”