Duncan Goodall was tired of the New Haven nightlife scene. So he created his own—and may have started a new trend.
About a year ago, while trying to think of a place for wine and conversation with his wife and some friends, he had a flash of inspiration.
He thought of his own place—a coffee shop.
Goodall, who’s 39, owns Koffee? on Audubon, which launched New Haven’s coffeehouse-hangout culture back in the early 1990s. Now he’s looking to launch a new after-work element to that scene and perhaps spark more nightlife in the Audubon district, serving wine and cheese in the shop daily starting at 5 p.m.
“We’re calling it Koffee Afterdark,” he said.
“I just realized that I didn’t like bars anymore,” he said. “Most of the bars are so loud and packed, and my idea of an enjoyable scene had changed. Now, I just like enjoying a nice glass of wine, in a quiet place, with a few friends.”
Another coffehouse hangout across town, Manjares Pastry Shop at West Rock and Whalley avenues, also plans to begin serving wine, along with beer and tapas, in the third week in February. “I think we’ll do it Thursday through Saturday, after 5 p.m.,” said owner Ana De Los Angeles. Along with wine, she’ll be serving small Spanish style plates, as well as American style munchies.
“I live in a nice neighborhood, but they don’t have too many places for families to hang out,” said De Los Angeles. “People love the coffee shop, so one day I thought, ‘Let me see how I can bring tapas and wine and beer.’”
She’s been working on it for almost six months now, and she’s confident she’ll get her liquor license soon.
A Quiet Opening
Koffee? started serving wine and cheese on Jan. 3. “It was a quiet opening,” said Goodall. And indeed, on Tuesday through Thursday last week, wine drinkers were scarce at the shop.
“It’s been pretty slow this week because of the weather,” said Hillary Stearns, a long time employee who returned to work for Koffee? in September. “But we’ve had people coming in for wine after work.”
Goodall said he’s just starting to get the word out. They’ve done little in the way of advertising, save a posting on the Koffee? Facebook page:
“Tired of New Haven’s bar scene?? Annoyed you have to YELL over music to have a conversation? Bothered you have to choose between Coffee or Wine?!
“If you answered YES to any of these questions… then you should come down to Koffee Afterdark! Every night at 5pm!”
Most “Afterdark” customers so far have been regulars, Goodall said. “They’re the people we see every day, who’ve seen our signage, and on a Thursday after work they might stop in for a glass or two.”
Koffee? opened up in 1992. Goodall, its third owner, bought the shop in 2002. It was the coffeehouse he frequented as an undergraduate.
“At that point, that part of town was very strange. It was a little bit more edgy, and there were more nightclubs and nightlife going on. It tended not to attract many people from Yale,” he said.
In the late 90’s, the area started to take on a different shape – closer to what it feels like today. So did Koffee?
“My overall goal has always been to build community within the university and the city,” Goodall explained. “And to create a more cohesive neighborhood feel to the place and the surrounding area.”
Enter wine and cheese. Goodall said he thought the concept would work well in a coffee bar atmosphere.
“I wanted to find wines that were affordable and good. I’m also trying to take the pretension off of wine, to make it more approachable,” he said.
“Good wine shouldn’t have to be about being a sommelier. It’s about tasting something good and enjoying it.”
At the moment, he has got six wines available (three whites and three reds) as well as a cheese platter for $12.
“One of the most popular red wines so far is the Malbec,” said Stearns, working the Koffee? bar on Thursday night. She pointed on the menu to the Bodegas Goulait, from Argentina, served at $6 a glass.
“But my favorite is the Anakena. It’s got this peachy flavor that’s not overtly sweet,” she said. The Anakena, a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, sells for $6 a glass as well.
Goodall has wines available from $6-7 a glass, and $20-25 per bottle. He plans to vary the menu as time goes on.
Goodall, a self-proclaimed “corporate refugee,” sees several potential target crowds for the “coffee plus wine” bar model. “One is the mid-30s-plus crowd like myself who prefer to be a little more calm and not drink to get drunk,” he said.
“And then there’s the group of people who work nearby and want to pop in for an after-work drink.
Goodall said it’d be great for undergraduates on dates, as well as one unusual crew. “I’ve discovered this odd group of students who like to study with a glass of wine,” he said. “A number of them have dropped us notes via Facebook, saying they love the concept.”
Ten Months of Red Tape
Back in February, wine on his mind, Goodall started that same long, trying process: applying for a liquor license.
“Getting a license in Connecticut is a difficult, painful process,” Goodall admitted. “Not to mention expensive.” He started the process in February of 2010 with the State Liquor Control Commission, seeking a license that would allow him to serve wine during the evening hours.
Goodall had to get signatures from various municipal departments including the city clerk, fire marshal, zoning board and health department. “And each of those required an inspection and a fee” ranging from $50-150, he said.
He applied for a specific license allowing him to serve wine, along with cheese, at certain hours.
“If you call the liquor commission, their official rote answer is two to three months,” he said. “But every other liquor license holder told me 9-12 months.” It took Koffee? 10 months.
This is Not a Bar
Goodall said he doesn’t worry that Koffee? will ever turn into one of those crowded, noisy bars he now avoids. “We’ve been very careful about how we’re doing this, and about maintaining the feel and the general feel of the coffee house.”
And they won’t do beer, or liquor, he said. Just wine. “We’re very intentional about that.”
“When people think about cheese and wine they don’t think about a party, whoop whoop, dance around and get wild!” he said with a laugh.
“Wine and cheese is much more down to earth. And that’s what we’re looking for.”