For 40 years, Yorkside Pizza and Restaurant on York St. has served its famous pizza and milkshakes to locals and Yalies alike. Yorkside has established itself as a legendary Yale tradition, frequented by the likes of President George Bush ’68 and Yale Chief Investment Officer David Swensen.
But now, Yorkside faces steep challenges; shifting demographics, increasing costs and heightened competition pose obstacles to the popular family-owned restaurant.
Yorkside owner George Koutroumanis never thought he would become a Yale fixture.
Born in 1955 in a rural part of Greece, Koutroumanis immigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of three. While still a high school student, he began working at his two older brothers’ business, Broadway Pizza, in New Haven.
“People loved Broadway Pizza so much that soon we were able to open another location,” Koutroumanis said.
And thus, the three brothers became partners, and Yorkside Pizza opened for business in Jan. 1977. Over the next years, Yorkside became more well-known throughout the Yale community.
“At first, few Yale students trickled in,” Koutroumanis said. “But more and more students started to come. Soon, word was out that we had good food and good prices.”
He claims that Yorkside’s secret recipe has always been “good food and good prices.”
Restaurant customers, however, add a third component to that list — good service.
According to both current and former Yale students, the Yorkside staff is friendly and attentive, giving the restaurant a comforting atmosphere.
“All the pictures of Yale events on the walls don’t hurt either,” Kamau Walker ’20 said. “It shows Yorkside cares about the Yale community.”
West Haven resident Karen Treat, who walks by Yorkside every day on her way to work, said she appreciates the Yorkside atmosphere and that she often brings her kids to the restaurant.
When asked about Yorkside’s future prospects, Koutroumanis expressed concern.
“I don’t want to say the outlook looks bleak,” Koutroumanis said. “But with recent changes, the outlook doesn’t look as bright as it once did. There is a lot of uncertainty coming up ahead.”
According to Koutroumanis, Yorkside has been adversely affected by changing demographics and new cultural trends in dining. He added that new restaurants are “popping up left and right” in New Haven, increasing the competition Yorkside has to face.
And as customers start to increasingly favor fast-food options, sit-down restaurants like Yorkside face an additional challenge, Koutroumanis said.
“So between the loss of customers and more competition, we’re getting a smaller slice of the pie,” Koutroumanis said. “In today’s society, so many people are in a rush. They come in, and they can’t afford to wait four minutes for us to put the pizza in the oven.”
A demographic shift is not the only challenge Yorkside faces; a rise in its menu prices is also forthcoming.
Koutroumanis said increasing ingredient prices as well as the rising cost of living adjustments in his employees’ compensation are pushing him to increase menu prices, something Yorkside has not done the past five years.
Using cheaper ingredients, Koutroumanis said, is not an option for Yorkside.
“We use real meat on our pizzas. Our pork sausage comes from a local farm. We make our chicken sausage in-house,” he said. “Many stores just use fake meat on their pizzas to save money. But it’s not all about the money.”
While these problems may seem far off, they have very real consequences for those who have devoted their entire lives to Yorkside. Multiple Yorkside employees told the News that they were distressed by the thought of a challenging future. Some even remarked that Yorkside had become their second family.
Many Yale students were equally distraught when asked to think about a future without Yorkside. Stephanie Hickman ’19 said she could not imagine “anything replacing Yorkside” and that losing the restaurant would be similar to losing a part of Yale.
Despite the uncertainties in Yorkside’s path, Koutroumanis continues to be a pervasive presence in the kitchen, ready to greet each and every customer by name.
“My heart and soul are here,” Koutroumanis said. “We’ve been a part of Yale for 50 years now, and I’ll do my best to make sure we continue to be a part of Yale for another 50 years.”