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Customers, baristas poured one out for Darwin’s as Cambridge coffee shop chain closed for good

Ownership announced last month that all four locations would close amid union negotiations.

The Darwin's Ltd. location at 1629 Cambridge Street in Cambridge. The three remaining Darwin's locations closed on Thursday.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

CAMBRIDGE — Darwin’s Ltd., a four-location chain of coffee shops in Cambridge, poured its last cups of coffee on Thursday, closing up shop for good in the wake of heated union negotiations.

The location on Mt. Auburn Street closed on Nov. 22, but for the remaining three locations — one on Putnam Avenue in Harvard Square, one on Massachusetts Avenue near Central Square, and one on Cambridge Street across from the Cambridge Public Library — 3:00 Thursday afternoon was closing time, for good.

“I’m happy for something new to come in here, and hopefully it will be a small business — hopefully this will be an opportunity for something new and maybe better for the community,” said Shiphrah Rosenberg, the general manager of the location at 31 Putnam Avenue, which has been open since 2019.


“I’m definitely sad for all the workers who are losing their jobs and I’m sad for the community,” she added. “I think this has been a resource for a lot of people — for jobs and for a place to work or study.”

On Oct. 26, co-owners Steven and Isabel Darwin announced that the Mt. Auburn location would close due to “workload and personal health” concerns as their 30-year-lease came to an end, according to an Instagram post. This sparked protests from unionized employees, who picketed at Cambridge City Hall and the Darwins’ home, demanding guaranteed employment to those who would otherwise be laid off, and $24-per-hour wages, and improvements in healthcare and paid-time-off for the rest.

Just weeks later, in another Instagram post, the Darwins announced that “upon further reflection we have decided to retire from this line of work,” and would be closing the remaining three storefronts. While the Darwins have been tight-lipped on the reasoning behind the closures, in an e-mail to a Globe reporter, Isabel Darwin wrote that the worker protest “is what has resulted in the acceleration of our decision” to close the business.


At the Putnam Avenue storefront on closing day, the mood was somber, with baristas and customers alike mourning the loss of the stomping ground. Customers brought in gift bags for the workers. Two baristas who didn’t work there anymore were behind the counter working, “because it’s our last day,” said Rosenberg. “People just really show up.”

Regular Katy Gero, who was sipping a flat white with oat milk and sitting with two friends on Thursday, expressed frustration that unionization may have played a role in the closure.

“I hope it’s another coffee shop. We thought the workers should have bought it,” she said. “It would be cool if it was just like this, but the workers were paid more.”

Sai Ravi, a graduate student at Harvard, also paid his respects to the Putnam Avenue store on Thursday. In 2020, he lived alone nearby the Cambridge Street store, and he went every day for a stretch during the thick of the pandemic.

“I used to feel pretty lonely and the only people’s faces that I used to see were people that worked at the Darwin’s,” he said. Every day, he would order the same thing — a medium hot mocha and an almond croissant. “Sometimes they would run out of almond croissants, but all the workers, the baristas there, got so close to me that they would save one for me.”


There is a sign saying “Roust Coffee” in the window of the Mt. Auburn location, according to Cambridge Day, but it remains to be seen what that is, or what businesses might take the place of the other three Darwin’s. For now, Rosenberg said, she hopes “that vibe has been translatable to customers and to all the workers.”

“I hope everybody feels good about their interactions and experiences here,” said Rosenberg.

Diti Kohli of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Dana Gerber can be reached at Follow her @danagerber6.