Brief History of the Coal Yard Cafe
The Coal Yard Café at 143 Maple Avenue, Ithaca, recently opened as a duly
permitted, “neighborhood commercial facility”, with approval as a restaurant by the
Tompkins County Department of Health. The Café is located in a residential zone in
front of the newly constructed Coal Yard Apartments and between the Fairview Heights
Apartments and Townhouses and Cornell’s Maplewood Park. The Cafe seeks to
provide high quality food to residents of the neighborhood, those who work or visit in the
neighborhood and those attracted by the Café’s eclectric and high quality offerings. To
insure the Café’s success, we welcome comments and suggestions on our offerings
from our patrons.
Some may recall that a café operated in the historic Perry Coal Office building
since 2006 under three different operators. First, the “Queen of Tarts”, operated by
Leslie Muhlhahn of “Just Desserts” fame, offered fine pastries, bread and several lunch
treats prepared off-site because cooking was not permitted in the café at that time.
Later John Kadar, the former operator of “Oliver’s” on College Avenue operated a café
that stressed Hungarian pastries and chicken and matzo ball soup. After a short time,
Diane and Mike Carberry operated the cafe as the “Coal Shack Café” before moving
operations to Aruba in the Caribbean.
In winter of 2012-13, the Beer family assumed responsibility for the café and
transformed it into a small restaurant with full cooking abilities. Commercial-scale
cooking facilities were installed along with an exhaust system, all according to
regulations of the Tompkins County Department of Health.
The Coal Yard Café is under the management of Chef-Manager Gene Marks, a
graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park N Y. Gene brings a history of
What with the peculiar name? One needs only to see the huge chunk of coal at
the side of the original entrance to the café building. Chiseled into the chunk are two
words, “COAL OFFICE”. For many years, the building housed the office of businesses
that sold coal for heating to Ithaca residents. The building housed the workings of a set
of truck scales that weighed trucks loaded with coal as they left the coal yard and then
on their return following delivery of their load to customers in the Ithaca area. Coal
selling apparently began in 1901 at 143 Maple Avenue by the Stevens and Cornell East
Hill Coal Yard, which was located in the older section of the present café structure. The
coal yard had a succession of names and owners until 1960. The last purveyer of coal
was the Perry Coal Company. Its sign (authentically restored by V. Romanoff and
Associates) hangs on the east wall of the café building. Coal, that arrived by train from
Pennsylvania formerly was widely used to heat Ithaca residences and Cornell University.
The coal yard was located at a side track of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. A
terminus of the line was located across Maple Avenue where the East Ithaca Railroad
Depot was located. From 1876 to 1936, many past Cornell University students first set
foot in Ithaca at the Depot. The depot building was moved to Judd Falls Road (now Pine
Tree Road) where it houses the Agave Restaurant. .
The Beer family, David, Beverly and Steven, acquired the then underutilized coal
yard property in 2005 from William Lower. Over the following 8 years, the family
planned and constructed the Coal Yard Apartments (see http://www.beerproperties.com/
cya. ) designed to house mature students and career persons. To provide sufficient
access to the newly constructed buildings, a two-lane driveway was required. Thus the
mammoth truck scales, used to weigh the coal trucks that entered and exited the coal
yard, adjacent to the Coal Office building were removed. You can see the mammoth
brass balance beam in the dining area of the café. Also preserved is the original safe of
Franklin C. Cornell. To provide seating space, a modern highly energy efficient addition
was added in 2010 to the west of the original coal office building.