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Hubris Harvest: Why the Plow & Harvest failed

Loss Leader

Mar 21, 2014

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Photograph Ryan Girard

Just because you’re a billionaire doesn’t mean you’re good at running a food business. Witness the debacle that was Plow and Harvest, the ill-conceived Edmonton restaurant that was owned by Joe Ricketts – the former CEO and chairman of TD Ameritrade and part owner of the Chicago Cubs – which closed just a few months after its opening.

Rewind to that opening, in August 2013: In a pre-launch press release (one that belongs in a public relations hall of shame) the restaurant was billed as a “new fresh-casual concept” that would “fill a need diners have expressed for healthy, affordable options that support local food suppliers.” The release further claimed that Plow and Harvest wouldn’t be the last location, either, but was instead the beginning of a chain of locations across Western Canada.

Er, not quite. “There were so many things that went wrong with it – it was so ludicrous,” says Twyla Campbell, an Edmonton writer who was one of the few who actually experienced – endured, really – the restaurant’s food. “I think they came in trying to be something they couldn’t possibly be. It was people with too much money trying to pull something off in an area they knew nothing about.”

Plow and Harvest isn’t the first culinary catastrophe that Ricketts’ name is attached to, either. He was behind an equally spectacular resto failure in Wisconsin, called Bison Jacks, which attempted to move bison meat into the mainstream by charging – wait for it – $20 for hotdogs made out of the animal. When Bison Jacks opened in 2012, the restaurant’s operations director, Shawn Horne, told the Wisconsin State Journal that “This is [Ricketts’] idea [for] a healthy alternative to fast food. He wants to bring something positive to society when it comes to fast food.”

It bears noting that Ricketts also owns a number of large bison ranches and already served bison at Wrigley Field, meaning he stood to do quite well if Americans took to bison en masse.

Now, what meat did Plow and Harvest’s menu prominently feature? You guessed it – bison.

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