Cherished Local Coffee Chain Forced To Go Out Of Business?

A combination of workload, health concerns, and strained relationships with employees led the owners of Darwin's Ltd. coffee shop to close all four of their New England locations.

By Charlene Badasie | Published

Darwin’s Ltd will be permanently closing all four of its coffee shop locations before Christmas. According to a statement published on their social media pages, owners Steven and Isabel Darwin said the decision marks their retirement from the business after three decades. “We thank the thousands of employees, customers, and the City of Cambridge for allowing and supporting the 30-year experience and success of our family-owned business,” the couple said.

The closing of the original Darwin’s Ltd location in Harvard Square was announced last month, with the owners citing workload and personal health concerns. While the lease extends until December 1st, the mini coffee chain has reached an agreement with employee union, Darwin’s United to shutter the location on November 22nd. The closure dates for the other three locations are still undetermined.

Unfortunately, the relationship between Darwin’s Ltd and its employees has been strained for a while. In response to the initial closure, union members organized a rally at Cambridge City Hall on October 29th. According to The Harvard Crimson, staffers called on the owners to guarantee employment at the Mt. Auburn location, raise wages to $24 per hour, provide three weeks of paid time off, and offer zero-deductible healthcare.

Speaking to WCVB via BestLife, Warren Pepicelli, from the New England Join Board which is representing Darwin’s employees, said he is disappointed the owners of Darwin’s Ltd are closing. “We’re trying to work with them to keep stores opened, and were shocked that he decided to close,” Pepicelli said. Interestingly, when the Mt. Auburn closure was announced, the founders said they would work in good faith with the union to retain as many staffers as possible.

darwin's ltd starbucks

The company also said it would offer appropriate severance to those being laid off. However, baristas told Cambridge Day that the incoming bakery is not planning to hire Darwin’s Ltd. employees. Speaking to the publication, frequent customer Rebecca Patterson said she was disappointed to lose a longtime local business. “I wish that the negotiations with the union could have gone better because I think there could have been a way forward,” she added.

Based in Cambridge for decades, Darwin’s Ltd opened its flagship store on Mt. Auburn St. in 1993. Not long after, Darwin’s sandwiches began earning accolades from Best of Boston, Phantom Gourmet, and the Harvard Crimson. With their reputation for attracting loyal customers over the years, other Cambridge neighborhoods invited the Darwins to open more locations on Cambridge Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and most recently, Putnam Avenue.

According to the Darwin’s Ltd website, the mini-chain is best known for its award-winning sandwiches, but the coffee is also exceptional. Most recently, the Massachusetts Avenue location won the 2019 Best of Cambridge Award for Best Coffee Shop. Their beans were consciously sourced and roasted by Square One Coffee located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  

But Darwin’s Ltd isn’t the only coffee shop set to close. Starbucks has also been forced to shutter several locations. The coffee giant closed 130 locations in Russia amidst the ongoing conflict with Ukraine, with closures expected in the U.S too. At the end of July, 16 stores were closed due to safety concerns and the number of crime-related incidents reported by employees, The Seattle Times reports.