B!KE
Statement House
Theatre Trent 2022
Arthur News School of Fish
Storefront of The Planet’s downtown location after its closure. Photo by Rishabh Joshi

Reminiscing on The Planet Bakery and What Its Closure Signifies For Students

Written by
Emi Habel
and
and
July 14, 2022
Reminiscing on The Planet Bakery and What Its Closure Signifies For Students
Storefront of The Planet’s downtown location after its closure. Photo by Rishabh Joshi

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning as you waddle across the familiar, paint-chipped concrete floors to find a vinyl chair and sit your tired bones. Last night’s hangover is taking its course through your body and you eye the coffee station, endlessly grateful for the free refills. Nostalgic smells of warm bread help you feel closer to home–you can’t really explain it, but there’s a comfortable safety that settles around you every time you visit, and today is no exception.

Two weeks from now, a family curious to try vegetarian chilli or cranberry-cashew-cheese sandwiches will visit and share a similar feeling. Yesterday, the local Buddhist community came over for tasty vegetarian and vegan dishes that are hard to find anywhere else in the city. At the bakery’s location on the Trent University campus, a couple who just finished working out at the Athletics Centre run in for the only fresh smoothies in town that don’t cost an arm and a leg. 

This was the Planet Bakery. A place beloved by countless Nogojiwanong-Peterborough locals and visitors since its opening in 1996 (and second branch in 2011), the Planet Bakery was a vegetarian and vegan bakery cherished for its homemade bread, delicious sandwiches and on-tap kombucha, among other local favourites. 

Unfortunately, the bakery announced this past January that it would not be reopening either locations after the Government of Ontario announced it would be allowing restaurants to reopen their indoor dining at half capacity. In their now-deleted Instagram, The Planet told their followers: “We would like to thank all those who supported us over the last 25 years, especially those who gave their constant support throughout the uncertainty of the pandemic.” 

Snowy Water Street featuring the storefronts of The Planet, Fresh Urban and The Food Shop. Photo by Rishabh Joshi.

Two years of on-and-off and ever changing restrictions paired with the government’s prioritization of corporate chains was bound to take a crucial toll on Nogojiwanong’s local business scene. And this, unfortunately, is an experience shared by most small business owners across Canada. According to data from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), over half (66%) of small business owners in Canada are close to burning out, reporting “a rise in mental health issues among their employees” too. In an article titled “Two-thirds of small business owners close to burnout, despite pandemic restrictions easing”, CTV News correspondent Kevin Gallagher concretizes the gravity of the situation by giving personal examples of small business owners who have been fronting the multifaceted issues brought on by the pandemic in 2022.

The Government of Canada has been relatively quiet on the impacts that COVID-19 has personally taken on its small businesses, priding itself on the fact that some of its provinces have been handing out grants and loans. Unfortunately, many of these loans and grants either don’t make a noticeable difference or further entrench owners in debt, leading Canada’s small businesses to now collectively owe over $135 billion as a result of the pandemic. We cannot go on ignoring the people who are the backbone of our local culture and economy.

It can only be imagined, then, how much stress the owners of the Planet Bakery, Wes and Ted, were also under. Although we weren’t able to chat with them about the closure, three of their wonderful staff agreed to share with us the experiences and memories they made from working at the Planet. Jules, who worked at both locations, told me that her “time working at the Planet was such an enriching and special period of my undergrad,” and that the bakery “had a solid collective of passionate people working together, and it really was a supportive little community in there.”

Entryway to the Athletic Centre with a look into the gymnasium. The counter doors of the closed Planet North are shown as the bakery’s sign remains lit above. Photo by Rishabh Joshi.

Meg, who began working at the Planet’s location on campus in 2017, elaborated on the unique work atmosphere, describing: “There is a safety and a satisfaction that comes with working in a predominantly femme workplace…I rarely felt alienated by who I was and most of the people I worked with remain some of my closest friends.” 

Photo by Polly

“I also appreciated the autonomy we had as workers,” Meg continued, “…a freedom that allows and encourages you to take care of yourself at work, is crucial, especially when in the food service industry.” 

The positive and chill work atmosphere was something I heard about from every staff member who spoke with me, with Jules also telling me: “It was truly unlike any other job I've had, and I am so grateful to that business and the people I shared the workplace with.” While the closing of the Planet leaves me with grief for that time in my life as well as the iconic sandwiches, I will forever carry those people and connections through life with me.”

Polly, who began working at the Planet in 2018, expressed how: “They [Wes, Ted and the managers] were very ethical bosses; they didn’t cut any corners. They took care of us first and foremost, and they took care of the business in the same way.” Polly then reminisced about how Wes had come directly to her door to announce the closure of the bakery, a gesture of consideration that is rare in the workplace, especially towards student employees. 

On the topic of being a working student, Meg also acknowledged that “working through university is not for everyone,” but she noted how the Planet offered students a workspace that was flexible and rewarding, while also including them in an ever-evolving community. 

The Planet’s location at Trent University’s Athletic Centre, referred to as the Planet North, was a great bridge for students of different backgrounds, interests, majors and clubs to meet and share the same food. With the Athletic Centre being a place frequented by nearly every student at some point during their time at Trent, the Planet North’s presence brought considerable and consistent traffic–because wouldn’t you rather eat a sandwich made with homemade bread two steps away from the elliptical instead of walking nearly a kilometre across the river to the Pasta Bar?

Unfortunately, the Athletic Centre’s screening procedures during the earlier days of the pandemic landed a blow on the Planet North’s survival, with little to no alternative screenings being offered to customers who simply wanted to pick up food from the Planet North–not attend the gym where a drastically higher level of safety was required because of the nature of the activities and its exposure levels.

“It scared people away, that they had to do a screening to get into the Athletic Centre for the Planet…” Polly shared. “Where people would go to the Spoon [referring to the Seasoned Spoon restaurant on campus] because at least like you didn't have to go do the extra stuff, but at the Planet, you'd have to wait ring a doorbell wait outside to have your screening done, and that just scared away so many people. I would be able to see people walking away from the window.”

Poster from Trent University announcing The Planet North’s closure with text saying: “Trent Athletics would like to thank the Planet North Cafe team and staff for all their support over the years at the Athletics Centre.”

Earlier in February, I asked Trent Food Services (TFS) about their plans for the replacement of the Planet North on campus, and inquired whether they had plans to partner with a new food provider who had similar values and qualities as the Planet North. They replied to me saying: “Food Services plans to work through a structure for a Request for Proposals that will allow Trent to select a new food service provider for the previous Planet North location at the Athletics Centre. The aim is to have a new company in place and ready to provide the high-quality food options students, visitors and our campus community have enjoyed at that location.” Upon hearing this, I wasn’t sure if Trent’s intentions were to form a business partnership with yet another big food chain, and I was afraid that the beloved Planet Bakery would be replaced with yet another corporation claiming to be a “green” or “healthy” alternative for students to feel good about. I wondered to myself (and my editors), “what kind of message does Trent want to send with what they choose to replace the Planet North? Will it be a message reflecting values of ethical work conditions, mindful of diverse diets, accountable sustainability, and our local economy? Or will their decision reveal priorities of corporatisation and greenwashing? Thankfully, Trent chose to echo a message of local partnership, authenticity and care for student health.

Just as we were getting ready to publish this article, TFS announced on June 24th that they would be welcoming the ‘76 Sips Café at the end of the summer, saying: “We are excited to have the team from ‘76 Sips Cafe join Trent as our new service provider at the Athletic Centre…The menu checks all the boxes: great tasting, healthy, local, sustainable, with gluten free and vegan choices.”  ‘76 Sips Café is a division of Jo Anne’s Place, a health and food store that has been serving the Nogojiwanong-Peterborough community since 1976. As an avid Jo Anne’s Place shopper–and impromptu photoshoot in front of their sunflower mural enthusiast–hearing this thrilled me. Jo Anne’s Place has been a torchbearer for health and wellness in Nogojiwanong-Peterborough for nearly fifty years, and to me, it makes perfect sense that they would be partnering with Trent University. Although the Planet North’s legacy remains, I look forward to seeing what legacy ‘76 Sips Café will establish on campus and in the lives of students.

B!KE
Statement House
Theatre Trent 2022
Arthur News School of Fish
Written By
Sponsored
B!KE
Statement House
Theatre Trent 2022
Arthur News School of Fish

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