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Amid Tears & Free Burgers, Final Grease Sizzles

by Allan Appel | Oct 28, 2010 7:18 am

(18) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Food, Downtown

Allan Appel Photo Sara Mulligan asked if she could buy the stool on which her boyfriend was sitting when she met him there two years ago at the Copper Kitchen. Buy? responded owner Bill Kalogeridis. Are you kidding? Take it.

In that spirit of generosity Chapel Street’s most beloved greasy spoon prepared and gave away all its food for free from morning till late afternoon Wednesday. When the last grilled cheese and BLT had been plated and slid down the counter, Kalogeridis shut down the grill for the last time after 26 years of operation.

Mulligan came in for one last egg salad sandwich. A Brazilian graduate student came in for two final grilled cheeses, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. Countless others stopped by for coffee, malteds, omelets—most of all for one last tall drink of the breakfast and lunch nook’s homey, loving atmosphere.

“The customers and people kept me here, and I joke with them. This is like my wife, my kids, my home,” said Kalogerides, as tears flowed like the free coffee and malteds and customers and employees old and new kept dropping by to offer their hugs and encouragement.

Rose Miko said Kalogeridis was like her other father. “My dad used to come here in the 1960s [before Kalogeridis bought the place in 1984] and then he took me here,” she said.

“Bill gave me lollipops. I don’t know if he remembers, but I do” Miko said. She began coming to the Copper Kitchen as a customer. For the last three and a half years she’s been a waitress.

She and five or six others have lost their jobs.

The reason for the closing was a long-running dispute with the landlord,Yale University Properties. Kalogeridis wanted a five-year lease; they disagreed over dangers posed by grease traps and HVAC equipment Yale wanted him to replace. (Read more about that here.)

Kalogerides said that over the years he’s been able to maintain affordable prices by keeping a small staff and in effect doing the work of three people himself: helping the two other cooks cook, waiting tables when necessary, washing the dishes.

“I want everyone to be able to eat,” he said.

Another waitress came by to hoist a final ceremonial cup in tribute to Kalogeridis’ mentoring and generosity. Lisa [who preferred not to have her last name published] said that she was hired as the first waitress when Kalogeridis opened. “I was 30 then. Now I’m a 56-year-old grandma. And I wanted to be here on his last day.”

Kalogeridis estimated that during the week about 30 percent of the customers for his ample and affordable meals were Yale students. On Saturdays that number went up to half.

Among them were the graduate students from Greece, like biophysics and biochemistry student Dimitri Zattas. For himself and the other Greek-speaking kids who used to dine and hang with Bill, Zattas wanted equipment no more sophisticated that the simple and elegant coffee cups and saucers as keepsakes.

No problem. Kalogeridis insisted that he pack up a box of them with as many as it could contain. Zattas said he will distribute them to friends who enjoyed the Copper Kitchen over the years.

Kalogerides said that although the last meal has been served, he’ll be in to see if he could sell the remaining equipment until the end of the month.

Then he’ll take off some time to ponder what to do next.

At this stressed moment, he kept repeating, “I don’t need this place,” by which he meant the headaches of the long running dispute with his landlord.

Copper Kitchen is Kalogerides’ third restaurant, he said. He ran a bagel shop in Greenwich and before that co-owned a diner in Norwalk. And for 30 years before that he earned his chops at the Neptune Diner in White Plains.
A man who worked seven days a week from dawn to seven, he will not probably not be idle for long, he surmised.

“Thank you for all your business,” he told one of the the stream of regulars who hugged him good-bye Wednesday.

“Thank you,” the customer responded, “for all your love.”

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Comments

posted by: Mr. Calabash on October 28, 2010  8:04am

Sad. Get set for some generic chain that will be one more nail in the coffin of local distinction.

Starting with the Coop, Yale has wanted New Haven to look like any other town you might have the misfortune to find yourself in. I mean we can’t have prospective students not being able to find an Au Bon Pain, Moe’s, or Urban Outfitters—otherwise, everyone knows, they might go to Harvard.

posted by: Leslie on October 28, 2010  8:42am

Yankee Doodle, Clark’s Dairy, Rudy’s, now Copper Kitchen. What’s next!? Will Patricia’s, Clark’s Pizza and Louis’ Lunch close too? As far as I know, they are the last places downtown where you can sit at the counter and chat with the waitress as you have your burger… This is terrible!

posted by: Pastrami Lover on October 28, 2010  9:37am

Going to miss you Bill!

Enjoy your retirement, but it just won’t be right walking down Chapel Street and not seeing you in your window.

And shame on Yale for not giving the Copper Kitchen a long-term lease so that Bill might have sold the business. (btw, they did the same thing to Chapel Wine when that sole proprietor wanted to retire).

Moral of the story is you don’t want to rent from Yale. Not unless you have your own corporate attorneys to fight/talk with theirs!

posted by: Steve B on October 28, 2010  9:50am

Trust me Mr. Calabash, Harvard Square is MUCH worse. In the past 20 years nearly every local institution that was worth a damn to the locals has shut its doors.

The Tasty Deli, where I used to get hot dogs and coffee at 3am after a midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, is now a Bank of America ATM.

posted by: terrapin on October 28, 2010  10:08am

For all that Yale makes off the community around here, you would think they would want to maintain what makes downtown unique and not just another strip mall of soulless chain stores. Places like this (and Clark’s, which I miss dearly)should be preseved and if it means Yale doing capital improvements on their own property by installing new grease traps and HVAC(A-How much could that possibly cost? and B-Most likely, should this restaurant close it would be replaced with another), it is an investment in the community.

posted by: Bill on October 28, 2010  10:25am

What a magnificently heartless gesture by Yale.  I hope the pencil pushing pogue that made this decision chokes on their next truffle.  If you don’t fit in with Yale’s idea of what New Haven should look like, you might just as well go starve in an alley somewhere.

posted by: Mr. Calabash on October 28, 2010  11:10am

@Steve B: That’s my point, that they want to make it as generic as Cambridge.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on October 28, 2010  11:16am

Chain retail is not just some Yale thing, it is supported at every level of our society. Zoning laws mandate regularity and standardization of building lots with accessory on-site minimum parking requirements; banks loan based on standardized modules of square footages that allow easy bundling of thousands of similar properties to be divided up, re-bundled and sold to foreign investors; craftsmen are hard to come by and so construction practice is dumbed-down and overly standardized; transportation is heavily subsidized to allow for global and national transport that destroys local agriculture, manufacturing and assembly; tax credits and the tax structure are overwhelmingly supportive of new construction rather than adaptive reuse, preservation and rehabilitation; advertising convinces people that name brands are more trustworthy than specialty goods providers; and worst of all the demand for low prices has actually substantially raised taxes, increased unemployment, increased standardization, incentivized global networks of trade and production, destroyed painstakingly built-up character, ruined much of our culture by sensationalizing, objectifying and commercializing public life through corporate uniformity, and has consolidated our wealth into the hands of a few elite corporate owners with foreign bank accounts, foreign headquarters, employees who specifically are employed to look for tax loopholes, trillions in tax cuts that are used to invest in foreign markets, and with absolutely no understanding of the working and middle classes other then as robots and consumers. It’s actually at the point where it is more expensive to have cheap prices than it is to have localism in terms of net costs.
The other issue is that people just aren’t as willing to open new stores and businesses as they used to be. The immigrant communities are the ones that invest locally, and try to provide the specialty services and goods that their community needs. People who are settled down and middle class would just rather have somebody else do the work, then complain when a Walgreen’s opens up instead of a locally owned pharmacy. At a certain point, assimilated Americans are just going to have to start investing in their local communities instead of in the stock market. Pressure to change government policies, the tax structure and zoning laws will also help to make it easier and more viable to own a local store. The next step after local ownership is local production and assembly, which can be accomplished through further demand from large groups of people, the lowering of the cost of living and simultaneous proportional lowering of wages, lowering of health care costs through transit investment and local agricultural subsidies, and willingness of the public to be active in the things that matter.
New Haven will be a prosperous place when our restaurants and grocery stores are owned and operated by residents and the produce and livestock they use is grown and raised on a local farm owned and operated by residents; and when machinery used to produce goods for a local store is assembled in local factories and designed at local businesses, which employ residents. Realistically, New Haven cannot produce everything, but the unique things we are able to produced based on our geographic location can be made in surplus to trade with other places that have things that we don’t. We have gotten so far from this elemental piece of what makes urbanism work, that many times our solutions just create more problems than they fix. Returning to local means of production and local networks of commerce would allow us to to greatly reduce the size of the federal government and keep it mostly as a defense entity and trade regulator.

posted by: sjbj on October 28, 2010  11:35am

Lovely, another empty store front. Like ex-Roomba, most of Audubon St, etc etc. Way to go, Yale.

posted by: JP on October 28, 2010  11:53am

Roomba,  Adulis and now The Copper Kitchen all downtown restaurants that only left because of problems with Yale.

posted by: Alex on October 28, 2010  12:31pm

What a shame and shame on Yale Properties! They are heartless! Having dealt with them I can assure you of that. Copper Kitchen and the texture and character they gave to the area will be much missed. It is a great loss to the Yale Community and Chapel Street.

posted by: Ms.Mary on October 28, 2010  1:13pm

Wow What a shame I used to take my girls there when they were 9 and 7,now they are 27,25.We still went there on saturdays.What a sad day in New Haven.We will miss you Copper Kitchen,thanks for all the good times!!!!!

posted by: Pastrami Lover on October 28, 2010  1:26pm

Doubtful that this storefront sits empty for long. My guess is that Basta expands into the space sometime next year. But that is just a guess.

At least the old Caffe Adulis space is finally rented. Yale is bringing in “Oaxaca”, just two doors down from Pacifico, and of course right around the corner from Gideon’s new venture Geronimo. (and nearby Ibiza).

But hey, why not?

posted by: robn on October 29, 2010  8:46am

Rhoomba? Copper Kitchen?....thus continues Yale Properties Warsawification of upper Chapel Street.

posted by: Stone on October 29, 2010  8:55am

As a teenager, my best friend and I would stop and eat at Copper Kitchen as one of our “highlights” after a day of shopping at mall and other downtown stores. We loved their hamburgers!!

Thank you, and best wishes on your next venture/service!!

posted by: davec on October 29, 2010  2:42pm

Little known fact.  The kitchen of the Copper and the kitchen of the Anchor share a window between the two.

Another little known fact.  A certain former Yale Architecture School dean re-decorated the Copper about 15 years ago as a side job.  Complete with custom made wire dockside themed artwork.

FACT!

posted by: Ellis Copeland on October 30, 2010  2:08am

Bill is one of the people who make New Haven less a a dump.  A true gentleman, a great restauranteur, a shining star.  This is just another example among thousands of why Yale is bad for this town and should be stripped of its tax exemption.  It’s a damn sad day for New Haven

posted by: Julie on November 5, 2010  9:49am

Nuts!!! 
Copper Kitchen kept me happy & grill-cheesed for 4 years, at prices I could afford.  Yale as shiny-shiny landlord of a company town is not doing the landscape of the city’s comfortable eating/drinking/entertainment spots any favors.  Is the Anchor at least still around?

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