Ploughboy closes after eight years on campus

After eight years of business, Ploughboy — an independent baked goods and coffee shop in the University of Calgary’s ICT Building — has closed its doors following the university’s decision not to grant the business a new lease.

“We’re all really distressed with the decision as there’s no other explanation given,” said Ploughboy owner Garry Killbourn.

Killbourn said that changing university policy is to blame for the closure. In the summer of 2009, the Board of Governors decided all on-campus catering would be operated by Chartwells. At the time of the decision, catering comprised one-third of Ploughboy’s business.

“So that memo went out, and our catering just fell off the table completely, and we were rendered uneconomic with just the stroke of a pen,” said Killbourn.

This decision coincided with the deadline to extend Ploughboy’s lease for another four years beyond February 2010. Killbourn chose not to exercise the new option, partly because of the catering decision, and partly due to the then-recently opened Chartwells partner Extreme Pita in the ICT building.

“So [now] we have three businesses side by side — Ploughboy, Good Earth, Extreme Pita — essentially serving the same product. Whereas the traffic in this building is really properly only positioned for just one such business,” said Killbourn.

Following Killbourn’s decision, Ploughboy manager Tracey Kirby expressed interest in buying the business. After coming up with financing and a revised business plan, she submitted her proposal to the university at their request. This was met with no response for weeks.

“Tracy kept phoning and they kept saying we’ll get back to you in a few days. Of course, that didn’t happen,” said Killbourn.

At the end of January Kirby was notified by the university that it was not in their interest to grant the lease, confirming Ploughboy’s closure at the end of February and leaving Kirby out of a job. It was implied that the extension of Ploughboy’s lease did not fit with the university’s “Keep it on Campus” campaign which encourages university partners to use U of C revenue generating operations whenever possible.

“I’m sorry to say it, but [the university] seems to be insensitive to the needs of the people who make this university happen,” said Killbourn.

Associate vice-provost Voula Cocolakis stated that Kirby’s business plan was “unacceptable,” and that there are no current plans for the now closed Ploughboy space. Cocolakis declined further comment.

University of Calgary Catering and Food Services also declined to comment.

“I’m truly disappointed that the university doesn’t recognize the need for an independent business like this. It seems they want independent businesses out,” said Killbourn.

The announcement of Ploughboy’s closing inspired its customers to various forms of protest. Dozens of emails have been sent in support, petitions and rallies have been organized and a Facebook group with over 150 members was created in the attempt to save Ploughboy. But, with the decision now finalized, these actions are little more than posthumous support.

“They’re really nice people. Just in the last few months, I’ve gotten to know them,” said Jennifer Harper, a customer speaking about the Ploughboy staff. “They always talk to you. It’s not just a business transaction, and that’s kind of nice.”

“The highlight will be serving our wonderful customers, for sure. No question. This really is our ministry. It’s my calling; this is not my living. I can leave, except it’s hard to leave our friends,” said Killbourn.

When asked what he thought his customers would miss the most, Killbourn cited the breakfast crowd, with their pressure-brewed coffee and their mini-cinis.

“We could not do without them. My students would hang me,” Killbourn said.

Ploughboy’s last day of business was February 24, 2010.

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