Here is everything we know about Big City Coffee’s decision to leave Boise State, and the university’s response:
Big City Coffee & Cafe replaced the Starbucks in the Albertsons Library earlier this semester, but the company requested to be released from their contract after a discussion with Boise State administrators.
Big City Coffee made several demands during that conversation that the university could not accept, according to Lauren Griswold, the assistant vice president for Communications, Marketing and Creative Strategy at Boise State.
“Big City asked the university to support them by advocating on their behalf with students in an effort to stop the social media complaints and ensure students with opposing viewpoints wouldn’t protest in front of their store,” Griswold wrote in an email. “Owners were concerned about the impact of the negative comments on their business, both for their employees and for financial reasons.”
Boise State administrators reported having had this conversation with multiple affiliated individuals, including the owner of Big City Coffee, Sarah Fendley, and her fiancé Kevin Holtry, a Boise police officer who was shot in 2016 in the line of duty.
In accordance with constitutional First Amendment rights, “Boise State University supports the rights of free expression and speech. In fact, the First Amendment forbids public entities from restricting or regulating expression because of its message or ideas,” according to the university’s website.
Boise State had multiple conversations with Big City Coffee in order to try to resolve the dispute that had taken place. According to Griswold, Big City Coffee was given the opportunity to remain temporarily closed or to end their contract with the university immediately. They opted for the latter.
Though the student government, Associated Students of Boise State University (ASBSU) and the Inclusive Excellence Student Council (IESC) expressed their disappointment in the company’s presence on campus in meetings earlier this semester, the university clarified in a statement on Friday that the vendor was not removed, but instead decided to leave campus of its own accord.
Some of the backlash from students was due to the coffee shop and cafe publicly supporting police officers and hanging the Thin Blue Line Flag in their Boise Linen District location, which has often been associated as a countermovement to Black Lives Matter.
According to Griswold, the process of inviting a new vendor to campus involves students and a survey.
“There is typically a process with outreach to students when bringing in an outside vendor. A dining survey sent to students, faculty and staff in a prior term showed Big City ranked third among all options. The first two vendors selected were not interested in coming to campus; Big City was,” Griswold wrote.
However, Big City Coffee was offered the option to be released from their contract with the university and they officially closed their doors on Oct. 21 due to a dispute with Boise State students. The university’s administrators reached out to the coffee vendor about their concerns, according to Griswold.
“Boise State administration connected with Big City and had multiple conversations and met with them for several hours over the last week. Leslie Webb, vice president of Student Affairs and Alicia Estey, vice president of Legal, Audit, Compliance, Public Health met with the owners of Big City Coffee along with Aramark District Manager Brian Holzworth. In addition, the owners met with the President [Tromp],” Griswold wrote.
According to Griswold, Boise State officials made no demands during the conversation with Fendley, Holtry and administrators.
“We offered to facilitate a dialogue between students and Big City Coffee. We facilitate everyone’s peaceful and free expression that ideally results in a better understanding of everyone’s beliefs. Universities are places where difficult issues can be discussed and where differing viewpoints are welcome,” Griswold wrote.
According to Griswold, Fendley has retained an attorney and Fendley’s attorney has requested public records on her behalf. Boise State University will move forward with choosing a new vendor to fill the empty space in Albertsons Library. The process may be slower due to the pandemic, according to Griswold.
The Arbiter has reached out to Big City Coffee, but has received no comment.
The Arbiter has also submitted a public records request to obtain meeting minutes and other documents related to the meeting(s) and correspondence between Big City Coffee and Boise State University, specifically regarding details of Big City Coffee’s arrival and departure from campus.
*This is an ongoing story and will be updated as The Arbiter obtains more information.