Saturday, May 18, 2024

A sign posted Nov. 29 in the window of the former Darwin’s Ltd. coffee shop in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. (Photo: Theodora Skeadas)

Roust Coffee, which plans to open in the Harvard Square location of the closed Darwin’s Ltd. coffee shop, will seem familiar, license commissioners were told Tuesday.

Darwin’s closed Nov. 22 after 30 years at 148 Mount Auburn St.; the business’ other three locations throughout Cambridge closed a month later. Pressures from a recently formed unions were widely blamed, with Steve and Isabel Darwin saying that workers marching to their home Oct. 30 and holding a rally outside “resulted in the acceleration of our decision to retire.”

The Harvard Square location would become a bakery with no need for the Darwin’s baristas, Steve Darwin said in announcing the site’s closing. Yet on Nov. 29, a sign was posted in the Mount Auburn shop’s window soliciting worker résumés for Roust Coffee – run by Valentin Terteliu Hefco, operating as Fornosa LLC. Residents of Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood may be familiar with another Hefco business: Tokava Coffee.

“Mr. Hefco’s intention is to operate Roust under the same format as Darwin’s has done successfully in that location for several decades,” attorney James Rafferty told the commission, “as a small grocery with a café serving breakfast, good sandwiches, baked goods and the like, open from 7 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon with the same [seating] capacity.”

Roust hopes to get a transfer of the Darwin’s Ltd. wine and malt package store license, but details are still being worked out, Rafferty said.

Even the manager will be the same, as Michael Spires “has been a manager at this location previously and has agreed to continue to work there,” Rafferty said. No other Darwin’s Ltd. worker has been hired, if only because Hefco keeps just a couple of employees on standby until the doors can open.

That will be “as soon as possible,” Hefco said Wednesday by phone. “Staying closed is not good for building a business.” But the opening must wait for all the licensing, and fire and building inspections must be scheduled, he said.

Remnants of Darwin’s Ltd.

License Commission chair Nicole Murati Ferrer wondered if Hefco foresaw “any issues” in regard to unions, considering their impact on Darwins Ltd.

“It will be a new corporation, a new entity,” Rafferty said. “All the employees will become new employees of this LLC.”

It’s not known what will happen with the other former Darwin’s Ltd. locations at 1629 Cambridge St., Mid-Cambridge; 313 Massachusetts Ave., The Port; and 31 Putnam Ave., Riverside. Hefco said he has not explored using them for other Roust locations. “I’ll do my best with this one and not overextend myself,” Hefco said.

The “silver tsunami”

Theodora Skeadas, executive director of the small-business group Cambridge Local First, was a regular at the Darwin’s Ltd. on Mount Auburn. “Darwin’s has meant so much to so many Cambridge residents, and we miss the business and community tremendously,” Skeadas said.

Even without the union troubles at the business, the Darwins were headed toward becoming part of a concerning trend of retiring older business owners around the country dubbed the “silver tsunami,” Skeadas said.

“Approximately 60 percent of small business owners nationally identify as baby boomers, and most intend to sell their business in the near future but lack succession plans,” Skeadas said. “Employee ownership can be a great strategy for these businesses.”