Joseph Lentine, manager of New Haven’s historic Owl Shop, died unexpectedly at his home in Hamden on Feb. 12.
Lentine, who held the position as head tobacconist at the cigar shop, was 70 years old.
Glen Greenberg, the Owl Shop’s owner since 1998, called Lentine irreplaceable but said the shop would continue to operate in more or less the same way. The Owl Shop’s co-manager, William Raffaele, will take Lentine’s place as head tobacconist.
“We’re going to be going about business as usual,” Greenberg said.
The Owl Shop — a cozy lounge filled with battered leather-backed chairs and a rugged dark wood-paneled floor — has been a Yale and New Haven mainstay since its opening, located less than a block away from Old Campus at 268 College St. Lentine worked at the lounge for 50 years as an employee and eventual manager.
According to Raffaele, Lentine remembered the tobacco preferences of three past Yale presidents and the playwright Athol Fugard, all of whom he had served over the course of his employment at the shop.
The establishment on College Street today was the Owl Shop, which opened due to the popularity of the first shop on Wall Street. In 1951, five Owl Shops in New Haven condensed to the current College Street location. Lentine began working at the College Street Owl Shop when he joined staff in 1964.
The Owl Shop also serves as a music venue and bar, featuring local New Haven artists regularly.
“He was loved by everyone on the staff. He just brought happiness to everyone who worked here and to all the customers,” Raffaele said.
Lentine attended Southern Connecticut State University, where he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Spanish Literature with the intention of becoming a professor. He worked at the Owl Shop part-time during his college years. Raffaele said that Lentine once quipped that he eventually opted out of getting his Ph.D because the cigars wouldn’t respond to him if he spoke to them in Spanish.
Raffaele said that many of the Owl Shop’s regular customers continued to come back to the shop exclusively to see Lentine.
“I love the Owl Shop,” said Zak Schlesinger ’17. “Yale students like it on the weekends; it’s a good mix of New Haveners and Yalies.”
Caroline Hart contributed reporting.