After 30 years of serving cups of coffee in Cambridge, Darwin’s Ltd. will close all four locations in the coming weeks.
Breaking the news of the closure via social media, owners Steven and Isabel Darwin said they had decided to withdraw from this line of work. Darwin’s will close its doors at the Mount Auburn flagship store on November 22. Closing dates for the remaining three locations (Putnam Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue and Cambridge Street) have yet to be determined by the union.
“We are grateful to the thousands of employees, customers and the City of Cambridge for enabling and supporting the 30-year experience and success of our family business,” owners Steven and Isabel Darwin said in the statement.
Reactions to the news were mixed. For some customers and employees, the announcement of Darwin’s closure came eerily close to the negotiations between the union, Darwin’s United and the owners following the drive for unionization at the company.
“I was very excited to hear about the collective bargaining agreement last year, and I’m a little nervous that they announced the closing just as that agreement was reached a few months later,” said Jacob Cantor, patron of Darwin’s Putnam. Avenue. He added that this decision “doesn’t set a great tone” for labor efforts at other cafes in the region.
Darwin’s United was formed in September 2021 following a petition by nearly 40 workers. The union demanded a “living wage” of $24 an hour, “inclusive, affordable, no deductible” health insurance and at least three weeks of paid time off. Negotiations between the union and the owners began in November 2021, according to the union’s twitter, but no agreement had yet been reached.
Sam Swedberg, a barista at the Darwin’s Putnam Avenue location and a member of Darwin’s United’s action committee, believed the union was close to reaching an agreement with the owners. He was disappointed but not surprised by the announcement that the stores were closing.
“The rent is extremely high here, and having thought for a moment that there might be a change [and] you might be able to think beyond this month’s rent check… it’s gone,” he said.
Swedberg said he immediately began to worry about how he and his co-workers would make their rents with only severance packages spread out in the middle of the holiday season.
During discussions between the union and owner Steven Darwin, Swedberg became aware of the owners’ intent to close the Mount Auburn location, however, he anticipated that would not happen for another few years.
“He had said at the beginning, ‘D-One is out’ [referring to Darwin’s first location] and we were trying to save D1, maybe not the store itself, but the jobs,” Swedberg said.
After just two months on the job, Swedberg found out about his dismissal through the union. He said workers from other stores took over the bar at the Putnam Avenue location while union representatives herded employees to the back and broadcast the news, just an hour after Darwin visited the store and greeted staff. .
“You’re expected to hear that news, you go back to the front lines and all of a sudden you’re making drinks, you’re taking orders,” he said.[Someone says] ‘Hey, how are you today?’ Like, ‘Oh, I’m doing great, I just found out I’m going to be laid off in December after spending a month trying to find this job.
Steven Darwin could not be reached for comment on this article.
Regarding the increased push for unionization in the coffee industry, Swedberg hopes that Darwin’s closure will not deter the fight at the local level.
“I hope they don’t look at Darwin and say, ‘Oh, everyone lost their jobs, we’re not going to do much there,’” he said.
Outside of union concerns, customers were sad to see their beloved coffee shop disappear. Sun-jung Yum, a lifelong Cambridge resident, grew up going to Darwin’s, frequenting the Cambridge Street location throughout high school. When he heard the news, he was shocked, feeling as if it “came out of nowhere”.
“I never really imagined that it just wouldn’t be there,” he said.
Dave Iannetta, who has also been going to Darwin’s for years, first to the Mount Auburn location, then to the Massachusetts Avenue one, said the closure will be a loss for the neighborhood.
“I have lived in Cambridge for 16 years and they have always been,” he said.
Liz Neisloss contributed to this report.