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Monday, February 4, 2008

Could it be a feather in their cap? Yale reaches out to the "Doodle"

By Randall Beach
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— “The Doodle” might not be dead after all.
Three days after the landmark Yankee Doodle Coffee Shop abruptly closed its doors, a Yale official Friday said the university is willing to rent a space to “Doodle” owner Rick Beckwith.
“It’s a great New Haven institution,” said Bruce Alexander, Yale’s vice president and director of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs. “We’re trying to contact the owner to see if he’d be interested in one of our properties.”
Contacted Friday, Beckwith said he was aware of Yale’s offer, but wasn’t prepared to respond to it.
But in the many media stories about the restaurant this week, Beckwith has said he might be willing to reopen.
Since its opening in 1950, the Yankee Doodle operated on Elm Street across from Broadway. In 1983, Tyco, a copy supply store, moved in next door and bought the building, including the restaurant’s space. Tyco owner Michael Iannuzzi Sr. became the Beckwith family’s landlord.
Iannuzzi and Beckwith described their relationship as friendly. But sources have told the New Haven Register that Beckwith and Iannuzzi (as well as Iannuzzi’s business partner) in recent years argued over the increasing rent, which was reportedly much higher than Yale’s rental rates.
After news of the Yankee Doodle’s closing broke, Beckwith and Iannuzzi received a flurry of e-mail and phone messages. Many of those sent to Iannuzzi were from angry Yale alumni.
In a form letter reply, Iannuzzi said he, too, was disappointed to see the Yankee Doodle close. He said it “makes me sad and angered to be depicted as the type of person that would contribute to the demise of this business.” He said he had worked with Beckwith in an effort to keep the business open.
Beckwith has declined to discuss the rental situation.
Alexander said a logical new location for the Yankee Doodle would be on Broadway or York Street. Asked about the York Street space formerly occupied by Merwin’s Art Shop (now on Chapel Street), Alexander said it would be a possible site for the restaurant, if it could be vented for cooking.
Alexander said Yankee Doodle was “a New Haven tradition” and a good part of “the mix” of stores and restaurants in that neighborhood.
Richard Gould, a New York City architect who was a regular customer of “the Doodle” when he was a Yale student in the 1960s and ’70s, said Beckwith told him he received about 1,500 e-mail messages during a 12-hour period this week as word spread about the closing.
Many of those people, Gould said, were offering Beckwith money in order to resurrect the coffee shop.
“He definitely wants to do ‘the Doodle’ again,” Gould said.
Gould noted Beckwith has had to contend with the arrival of food carts in the neighborhood as well as new coffee shops and restaurants. Gould also pointed out the Yankee Doodle is no longer open at night, as it was when he was a student. In recent years, Beckwith opened at 6 a.m. and closed about 2:30 p.m.
Beckwith, who is now 44, took over the Yankee Doodle after his father, Lewis Beckwith Jr., retired in 2000. The business was started by Lewis Beckwith Sr.
In the third generation of “the Doodle,” Rick Beckwith was the grill man, while his sister, Darlene Richitelli, waited on customers at the 12 stools.
“There is this massive support out there,” he said, clearly surprised and moved by the outpouring.
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

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