A change in management and a push toward local produce has shaken up the prices, but not the popularity, of Atticus Bookstore and Cafe on Chapel Street.
Atticus, a New Haven staple since 1976, has a new manager in Robert Marcarelli, who replaced Ben Gaffney over the summer. Marcarelli, who affectionately refers to Atticus as “New Haven’s soup, sandwich, and salad mecca,” has made an immediate impact by eliminating well-known menu items, increasing the presence of all-natural food and redefining staff roles.
“Atticus has always been such a New Haven institution, but it is time to bring in some more Connecticut influences,” said Marcarelli.
To this end, Marcarelli, who has experience as both a restaurant consultant and an executive chef at restaurants including Elis Brick Oven Pizza in Hamden, has made a host of changes to Atticus’ food and beverage selection. Beers are now sourced only from Connecticut breweries, much of the produce is obtained from New Haven farms and new menu items include line-caught tuna and hormone-free turkey.
Marcarelli will also make adjustments to the menu every quarter, based on the seasonality of ingredients.
“We are much more proactive with the menu than we used to be,” said Marcarelli. “We like to learn about our food, and teach our staff about our food and where it comes from.”
Sebastian Torres, who has worked at Atticus for 15 years, the most of any current employee, said the new management has led to better communication between employees. Each staff member now has a more specific role, creating a more efficient system of task management, Torres said.
With more high-end products came higher prices, Marcarelli conceded, citing the Cobb Salad as an example. The addition of Cato Corner blue cheese, which sells for $26 a pound, has pushed the price of the salad to $14.50, the most expensive item on the menu. Atticus has also transitioned to using premium coffee beans, which has resulted in an increase in the price of a cup of coffee, from $1.25 in the spring to $2.
Marcarelli and Torres said they have not seen a decline in business owing to the uptick in prices. But the removal of several classic menu items has caused disappointment, especially among student patrons, Torres said: The tomato panino, an Atticus staple, has been removed from the menu, much to the chagrin of Yalies.
Rachel Alderman, a New Haven resident and an Atticus regular, said she had not noticed a change, noting that her favorite menu items are still available.
Alex Kronman ’17 agreed. “I like the black bean soup,” he said. “As long as they keep that, I’m good. That’s the staple for me.”
While Marcarelli made changes to the cafe, the bookstore of Atticus remained untouched, according to assistant bookstore manager Mandy Dorso.
Marcarelli explained that this was an intentional move.
“Eating surrounded by books has a charm of its own,” he said. “There’s no need for a change in the format, because it’s great as it is.”
While Marcarelli bemoaned the fact that profit margins for restaurants are not where they used to be 15 years ago, he explained that adjustment and renewal is essential to succeeding in the food industry.
Specifically, Atticus now makes a much greater effort to attract students — the restaurant hosts promotions on campus and distributes coupons and virtual gift bags.
“There used to be an attitude towards students of ‘you can’t bring your computer in here,’” said Marcarelli. “But now we’re much more lenient. We let people come in with computers and do their work. We’re much more welcoming.”
Customers, however, are still not allowed to bring books from the store to the tables.