Sunday, May 26, 2024

A sign at Milk Bar in Harvard Square seen Feb. 7 announces the location’s closing. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Celebrity pastry chef Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar – best known for its pink aesthetic, layered cakes and hit dessert formerly known as crack pie – closed its Harvard Square doors last week after four years, making way for Joe’s Pizza, another New York City restaurant.

On Instagram this weekend, a statement representing the workers of Milk Bar claimed the sudden closing of the eatery was union retaliation. In an email Monday, the company denied that, calling the timing of the shutdown “purely and unfortunately coincidental” and putting the blame on the landlord terminating the company’s lease for a better offer.

Milk Bar’s closing was announced this month and implemented Feb. 20 officially, according to the business’ website. Milk Bar shared a space with &pizza for three years, which also opened in 2019, until it closed in May.

The Saturday statement from workers said the workers of Milk Bar in Harvard Square “went public with their intent to unionize as represented by NEJB Unite Here and presented our letter to management” on Jan. 11 at 2 p.m.

A worker at Milk Bar in May. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The same day at 5:55 p.m., the post said, Milk Bar president Keith Levy emailed to say the store would be shut down and, without a renewed lease, would vacate 3 Brattle St. by March 6. The statement from workers said the email seemed hasty, with misspellings of workers’ names and little to no explanation of the sudden closing. Tosi was cc’d.

“We invite Milk Bar to publicize this letter from the landlord or any other official correspondence confirming timeline details to dispel any suggestion of retaliation against us, their unionized workers,” the post said.


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The federal National Labor Relations Act makes it illegal to “discourage membership in any labor organization” including by closing a facility if the motive is to “chill unionism at any remaining facility and such an effect is reasonably foreseeable”

The workers’ statement could not be independently confirmed.

Milk Bar vice president of brand, creative and communications Kim Kaminsky said the closing was not based on concerns over unionization. Her statement:

By letter dated Thursday, Jan. 5, and received by email on Monday, Jan. 9, we were informed by the landlord of our Harvard Square location that our short-term lease was being terminated. Our Harvard Square location originally opened under a sublease with another foodservice establishment. Once the primary tenant (our sublandlord) left the space, we were able to continue to operate our small portion of the space under a direct agreement with the landlord for a period of time, but ultimately it is our understanding that the landlord found a new tenant to take over the full space.

We did not close this location in response to union activities. The closeness in proximity to our team member’s communication sharing their intent to unionize was purely and unfortunately coincidental. Not owning this storefront outright, and given our limited status as a former subtenant of another establishment, made the decision to close something that was unfortunately completely out of our control.

Last fall, a Gallup poll put U.S. approval of labor unions at a high since 1965, with 71 percent approval. This trend can be seen around Boston. Last year, workers at the Starbucks on Commonwealth Avenue at Boston University went on strike for 64 days, the longest strike in the country at the chain. Other Boston Starbucks followed that unionizing lead, as well as workers at Cambridge and Somerville coffee shops and bakeries.