For almost forty years, I have enjoyed a pleasant, personal relationship with Yale and many of its representatives. We have been good neighbors and I always believed we could resolve any differences in a manner that would allow me to operate and run Toad’s.
But approximately four years ago, Yale University sued Toad’s.
The building located at 300 York St., presently owned and occupied by Toad’s, was built in the early 1900s. From carriage house to ice house to a Yale bookstore to a restaurant and club, it has found its place in the heart of Yale. For approximately forty years, Toad’s has provided entertainment from national acts such as the Rolling Stones, U2, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash to local startup bands, as well as dance parties. Generations of Yale students have had a place, within walking distance, to relax, meet others and simply enjoy themselves.
Yale acquired the walkway immediately adjacent to Toad’s and Mory’s in the 1950s from the city of New Haven. The building has used this doorway consistently for over one hundred years. Yale now takes the position that Toad’s patrons are trespassing onto Yale property and that the right to use this exit area should be terminated. It is the position of Toad’s that the continued use of the exit has given Toad’s the legal right to continue to enter onto the Yale walkway.
In an effort to resolve the litigation, Toad’s has proposed that Yale agree to allowing Toad’s to enter onto a very limited portion of the walkway solely in the case of an emergency. But Yale has said that any rights it may grant to Toad’s shall be for a very limited amount of time. The ability, at some future date, to sell the business or the building — or to obtaining financing — would be lost, if there is a limiting time as proposed by Yale.
The results of the litigation, as in any litigation, are unpredictable. If Yale were to prevail, the implications for Toad’s could be severe. Fire codes require that every building have prescribed entrances and exits. If the exit from the doorway is terminated, the ability of Toad’s to carry on its business could be in jeopardy.
In all these past years, there has never been a lawsuit by either of us against the other. It did not strike me that a disagreement over the walkway would be difficult to resolve — and certainly would not require Yale to sue me.
We’ve opened our doors to celebrate Yale victories, such as the NCAA championship win, and to charity fundraisers and homelessness charity projects. We’ve consistently made our space available to Yale students and organizations who want to assist those in need. We see ourselves as more than a club, but an entity in the heartland of the University, available to serve the student body and the programs they want to promote. We want to stay.
Toad’s has had a wonderful relationship with many Yale students for the past 40 years. There are individual students who are regular patrons of Toad’s throughout their entire four years. There are a number of second-generation students. I have befriended them and been fortunate to create and develop a special relationship with some of them — and in a number of cases, with their parents whom I knew 25 years or more ago.
Litigation is very expensive; Yale has virtually an infinite amount of money to spend going after me and it knows that I am going to incur very substantial legal fees defending my rights. I would have thought that in light of all the history between the parties and the nature of the claim, Yale would have suggested that all parties meet and work out a fair resolution. Yale knows, and so do I, that the implications to me would be severe, if the University were to prevail.
It has been an emotional turmoil for me to have to deal with this lawsuit. I have operated Toad’s for four decades; my personal, familial and financial situation is all on this block. I have thoroughly enjoyed bringing in great music and entertainment and providing it to all in the community, including Yale students. I would think and hope that Yale would not try to destroy all I have built, and would choose reconciliation rather than litigation.
Brian Phelps is the president of S.K.M. Restaurants, Inc. and the owner of Toad’s Place .