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French Pastry School Fears Closure If City Pushes It Out of Loop Location

The school contends that it holds a “formal collaboration agreement” to occupy the building through January 2019, but the city disagrees.

Founded in 1995, the French Pastry School has been a training ground for aspiring pastry chefs.   Photo: Abel Uribe/ Chicago Tribune

Students at the French Pastry School may soon have to hang up their toques. The school is being asked to vacate its Loop location as early as next month, according to an email from the school’s founders Friday morning. 

In June, City Colleges of Chicago, which owns the pastry school’s building at 226 West Jackson Boulevard, informed French Pastry School that the city-run education network would be selling the location, and that the school would need to vacate the space as early as January 2018. According to the email, which appeared to be a mass message sent to previous supporters, French Pastry School was not provided a transition plan by City Colleges of Chicago.

The school contends the move will force a permanent shutdown. Estimates for “relocation and rebuilding costs" are between $8.3 million and $9.5 million, the email says. It alleges that based on their current agreement, those costs should be covered by the City Colleges of Chicago.

The school has been a training ground for aspiring pastry chefs since it was founded in 1995 by Jacquy Pfeiffer and Sébastien Canonne. The school has worked with Kennedy-King College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, as part of an agreement that they say is in effect through January 2019.

Alderman Brendan Reilly, who represents the 42nd Ward where the school is located, confirms in a phone interview that the city intends to sell the property soon. And it’s not the first time the city has considered a sale, he tells Chicago. Two years ago, he and then-City Clerk Susanna Mendoza learned of the plan and intervened. They met with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Colleges of Chicago’s chancellor at the time and encouraged them to reconsider their plans, Reilly says.

“Emanuel pumped the brakes at the time… but now it looks like the plans are coming to a head,” he says, adding that the building has attracted a lot of bids, many above asking price.

The pastry school says the closure would have a detrimental effect on Chicago’s students, the hospitality industry, the city, and state of Illinois, according to this morning’s email. The French Pastry School says it represents over 80 percent of City Colleges’ pastry graduates, more than 50 percent of their culinary school graduates, as well as 9 percent of all Kennedy-King College graduates. The email asks supporters to send “a short email of support” to city officials with hopes of halting the property sale.

Since the school received its notification to vacate the building six months ago, Reilly says he has had a series of meetings with the school’s founders and members of the City Colleges of Chicago to find another location for the pastry school. City Colleges offered up other locations, but they were “deemed insufficient or unrealistic by the pastry school’s founders,” Reilly adds.

“The chefs say they have an enforceable lease until January 2019, but City Colleges has a different opinion,” Reilly says.

Next month, the City Colleges of Chicago selection committee will see a presentation of the bids on that building. At that point they can select an offer or reject all offers, Reilly says.

“French Pastry School students are City Colleges students, which is why City Colleges has provided FPS with several generous space alternatives as part of a transition plan since deciding to sell its headquarters this summer,” says City Colleges of Chicago spokeswoman Katheryn Hayes in an emailed statement. She adds that City Colleges could have unilaterally re-assigned the pastry school to a different location but instead has reached out to come to a mutual agreement. "Unfortunately, FPS leadership has not come to the table to resolve this matter, and has only spoken to City Colleges through intermediaries,” the statement says.

“I’ve been advocating [for the French Pastry School] to the mayor and the City Colleges to come up with a reasonable transition plan, because the last thing anyone wants to see is the school close,” Reilly says. 

Spokespeople for the mayor’s office and the French Pastry School did not provide comment by press time.

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