Darwin’s Ltd., a Cambridge coffeehouse chain recently caught in contentious union negotiations, plans to shutter its four storefronts, the owners announced last week.
Steven and Isabel Darwin posted a statement on Instagram Thursday explaining that they “have decided to retire from this line of work.”
“We thank our employees, customers and the City of Cambridge,” the post continued, “for allowing and supporting the 30-year experience & success of our family-owned business.”
Just last month, the Darwins said that they will close their flagship cafe on Mt. Auburn Street by Nov. 22 due to “workload and personal health concerns.” The move inspired protests from unionized employees, who then picketed at Cambridge City Hall and the owners’ home. There, they demanded the owners guarantee employment to the workers displaced by the closure, raise wages to $24 per hour, and improve health care and the policy on paid time off.
Co-owner Isabel Darwin said in an email that “this protest march is what has resulted in the acceleration of our decision” to step away and close the business. She noted the stores already offer a $14.25 minimum wage and other employee benefits like two free meals per shift and discounts on beer and wine.
In a statement to Twitter on Oct. 29, Darwin’s workers displaced by the Mt. Auburn closure said they needed more security instead.
“We have been offered no guarantees of jobs for those who want to stay, no guarantee that workers will have an income going into winter,” the union wrote. “We will not back down, we will not take this.”
Darwin’s Mt. Auburn location is set to be replaced by a bakery with different ownership, according to Cambridge Day.
It is unclear exactly when the three remaining cafes — on Cambridge Street near Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, Massachusetts Avenue outside Central Square, and Putnam Avenue — will close. The Darwins said in a statement that they are “awaiting a response from the union” for a pending closure date.
The employee’s union, Darwin’s United, which is represented by the UNITE HERE New England Joint Board, declined to comment.
Roughly 40 baristas at Darwin’s decided to unionize to improve working conditions in September 2021, part of a wave of Boston-area coffeehouses where employees organized. Workers at Pavement, 1369 Coffeehouse, Diesel Cafe, Bloc Cafe, Forge Baking Company, and select Starbucks locations all voted to form unions around the same time.
Darwin’s workers are now in the midst of contact negotiations and have said on Twitter that ownership has stretched time between negotiation sessions.