Boise, ID – Big City Coffee was run off the campus of Boise State University (BSU) the last week of October after the owner displayed a small Thin Blue/Red Line flag sticker at another coffee shop location.
When Starbucks closed its location in the library on BSU’s campus, the university conducted an online poll to get suggestions of local businesses that the students wanted to fill the hole, Boise Police Corporal Kevin Holtry told The Police Tribune.
Corporal Holtry is the fiancé of Big City Coffee owner Sarah Fendley.
Fendley started Big City Coffee on her own 20 years and turned it into a popular eatery that has repeatedly appeared near the top on all of Boise’s “best” lists, Cpl. Holtry said.
After the survey, BSU administrators invited the popular local coffee shop to open up in the library location, KTVB reported.
Despite the pandemic making business very difficult for restaurants, Fendley took a risk and opened the doors on her newest venture to welcome students in September.
He said that when BSU invited her to open up on campus, she borrowed money and used savings to finance the new venture.
Cpl. Holtry said Fendley went through the university’s employment office and hired 23 female students to work for her, half of whom were minorities.
She opened her doors on campus in September and business ran smoothly, albeit slowly, for the first six weeks because the university remained mostly closed and virtual due to the pandemic.
In mid-October, a student posted a Snapchat of the new Big City Coffee location on campus and warned students of color to stay away from it because it wasn’t a safe because the owner displayed a Thin Blue Line flag at the store’s other location, KTVB reported.
The sticker displayed by Fendley at her other location was actually a Thin Blue/Red Line sticker in honor of both police and firefighters.
She also has a heart-shaped Thin Blue Line sticker beneath it.
Fendley quickly responded to that post and explained that her fiancé is a Boise police hero who is confined to a wheelchair because a gang member blew off his leg and shot him in multiple other places just four years ago, KTVB reported.
“I was thrilled to be asked to open Big City at BSU this fall … not super thrilled it was during a pandemic but it gave me the opportunity to create a few dozen more jobs on campus and give some hours to people that we otherwise would be missing due to Corona and everything it entails,” the coffee shop owner posted to her company’s Instagram.
“We were able to purchase local Cafe Mulé coffee and use some other local products there,” Fendley wrote. “I have explained before and if you scroll through the next two photos you will see my handsome guy- he’s the short one… in the wheelchair.”
“Almost four years ago on 11/11/16 he was shot five times, paralyzed instantly and lost his leg on the Boise bench protecting our city from a recently released from prison gang member that had already shot two people the day before and car-jacked an elderly woman all while running from the police,” she explained.
“Police K9 Jardo lost his life protecting Kevin and If you want more details google it – if you want to know why I support first responders ask me … I’ll tell you and if your lucky you might get to meet my hero,” Fendley wrote.
“He has extensive nerve damage and debilitating pain but he manages to smile through most of it and I love him,” the coffee shop owner continued in her post. “He never hesitated that day and he would do it again. We are lucky to have such great police, fire and EMS in our community. I support them because they support us.”
“My brother is also a fireman and our younger brother is in the Air Force – service is in our blood and my decision to open on a college campus knowing full well some wouldn’t be happy was outweighed by the opportunity to do something during these past few months- being self employed is never easy, try self employed with a restaurant in a pandemic it’s next level…” she wrote.
“I love Boise state and the staff we hired is wonderful and they deserve big thanks for serving the public when they could choose to stay home instead. I love my hero and I support him and always will – he is an officer of the highest regard and he was also a Bronco graduate,” Fendley posted.
But her explanation wasn’t enough for the angry student group that had targeted Big City Coffee, KTVB reported.
Members of the Inclusive Excellence Student Council (IESC) went to the BSU student government and demanded intervention.
The group’s logo is the Black Lives Matter fist on the organization’s official Facebook page.
“We are supporting an organization that blatantly supports the Thin Blue Line and every black person I know has stories of being treated unfairly at this place,” IESC member Alyssa Wainaina said at the meeting. “I believe that they should have never been brought to campus and if it can be reversed it should be. Not reversing it sends a statement across campus.”
Then Wainaina demanded the coffee shop be effectively “cancelled” at BSU, KTVB reported.
“There should be more marginalized student voices on this,” she said. “You need to find a way to cancel this contract because every marginalized student knows about this affiliation and that it is a dangerous place.”
IESC sparked outraged on social media despite the fact that no Thin Blue Line flags had ever been displayed in the BSU Big City Coffee location and no racism-related complaints had been filed against the business, KTVB reported.
“Sarah never displayed one piece of Thin Blue Line paraphernalia at the shop on campus,” Cpl. Holtry told The Police Tribune. “That’s not true.”
Initially, BSU promised to support Big City Coffee and put out a statement of support throughout the university community, he explained.
But that didn’t happen.
So Fendley and Cpl. Holtry went to meet with BSU administrators about what to do about the future of the coffee shop.
Cpl. Holtry told The Police Tribune that in the meeting, Fendley asked if the university was going to give her the support they had promised and they said they would not.
And then the university suggested that they “mutually agree to go their separate ways,” according to the police corporal.
Cpl. Holtry said there was no mutual agreement and that Fendley was pushed off campus by the BSU administration’s failure to back her up.
He said the university president was lying when she told reporters that Big City Coffee had chosen to pull out of the campus location on their own, and that the college made an environment impossible to operate in.
BSU President Dr. Marlene Tromp told KTVB that the coffee shop was not a victim of “cancel culture” on their campus.
“We invited them when Sarah had a Blue Line flag in her downtown store. There was an invitation to them as a valued local vendor,” Tromp said. “We want people to be able to express what they believe and express what they’re committed to. That’s what a university is for.”
She said the students had a right to express their opinions, too, KTVB reported.
“I’m hearing from a lot of people who are expressing their support for Big City Coffee right now,” the university president said. “Our students… are welcome to express their views, just like Big City Coffee was welcome to express theirs. Those students have a right to their freedom of speech as well.”
Tromp claimed she’d hoped to mediate a dialog between the coffee shop and the student groups, KTVB reported.
“Right now in this culture and in this country is a very, very pitched disagreement about what’s happening in policing,” she said. “And there are enormous tensions about that. And we wanted to be a part of there being a conversation about that. But I also understand, there’s a lot of hurt and pain in these conversations on both sides, and we can’t force people to talk with each other when they’re not ready.”
But Cpl. Holtry told The Police Tribune that the university had never warned Fendley about any opposition to the arrival of Big City Coffee as she was investing money left and right in the venture.
And he said they later learned that the BSU student government had been having discussions in their meetings for months about how to run Big City Coffee off the campus.
The university administrators knew about that plan but didn’t warn Fendley, the corporal said.
Cpl. Holtry told The Police Tribune his fiancé never would have begun the new venture had she known about the students’ planned opposition to the coffee shop.
While the whole BSU debacle has left a bitter taste in their mouths, Cpl. Holtry said he and Fendley were heartened by the massive showing of support in the community that occurred after the disaster with the new BSU location hit the news.
KTVB reported lines down the block of Boise residents who wanted to spend their money at Big City Coffee.
Some of them even wore their own Thin Blue Line paraphernalia.