“We are totally bemused,” Vaults & Garden Cafe owner Will Pouget says, shaking his head over the news that the church wants to close his cafe after 20 years of business on the site.
Will was given three months’ notice to quit by the parochial church council of St Mary’s, which leases the property from the University.
Willa says he is totally in the dark about why St Mary’s on Oxford High Street has chosen to serve his cafe its notice now, when the eaterie is as popular as ever.
But instead of licking their wounds, his customers have launched a petition to save their beloved Vaults & Garden Cafe, and it is gathering momentum every day, with over 4000 signatures so far, and counting. SIGN THE PETITION HERE
“It is very heartening to know that we are not alone,” Will says, “and we hope that such a wide and diverse audience getting behind us may mean we can work find a way to resolve this with the church, because we don’t want to leave the site. We love it here.”
The Church has said that it intends to run the cafe itself as a social enterprise and open in 2025.
“We feel that we add value to St Mary’s, and if the church did try to run their own cafe here, it seems like a big risk, so we really hope we can work with the church to resolve this and really listen to how we can work together more harmoniously in future. But yes it is a bit of a worry,” Will says.
So what would closure mean for Will and his staff? “Well it’s my life’s work,” Will says shrugging. “I don’t know what else to do apart from run cafes, so financially the implications are massive because this is our livelihood, and I have my staff to think about, some of whom have been with us from the beginning.”
Having to dismiss his 70 employees at such short notice would result in redundancy liability of £100,000 alone, for example.
Will has other arms to the business – The Alpha Bar in the Covered Market and Chickpea on King Alfred Street, but The Vaults Garden & Cafe is the lynchpin.
“Without The Vaults Garden and Cafe, I am not sure we could remain viable,” he says.
“So we really want to work with the ministry, to listen to what they have to say, and work with them to create something together, because we already have a very strong customer base and are so well known within Oxford.
“We have become an institution in our own right.”
The cafe, located in the historic Old Congregation House, was built in 1320, and is located next door to the Church. It was the first meeting house of the University’s governing body.
So what makes The Vaults Garden & Cafe so unique? “I think our customers are so loyal because we have always been quite pioneering, by focusing on healthy, seasonal, organic food so were always ahead of the game. it’s is also such a beautiful site, framed by Radcliffe Square, so very picturesque, and historic.”
As for the petition, it concludes: “We urge all of you who have enjoyed the Vaults & Garden over the years to support this petition and share it with your friends and colleagues