Food  |  News & Politics

The Wydown Abruptly Shuts Down DC Coffee Shops Amid Unionization Fight

The business laid off 30 employees without notice

Photograph by Arya Hodjat.

The Wydown, a DC coffee shop whose workers recently announced plans to unionize, abruptly shuttered both of its locations Tuesday night, laying off 30 workers, according to former employees.

“After 10 great years, we have closed both Wydown cafes,” Alex McCracken, a co-owner of Wydown, wrote in an email statement to Washingtonian. “Last year we realized we were ready for a change, and Tuesday May 14th was our last day of operations.”

But former Wydown employees told Washingtonian a different story, as they picketed Wednesday morning outside the store’s now-shuttered 14th Street and H Street locations. Wydown workers began seeking to unionize under Works United, an affiliate of SEIU, in April, citing issues with pay, poor working conditions, and disputes with management. When management declined to voluntarily recognize the union, a vote was scheduled for May 20, workers say.

“There’s never been any indication from them that the business is struggling,” says Chris Chandler, a former barista at the 14th Street location. “So for us to see them close, it really feels like it’s out of the blue, and it’s in response to the union election.”

Three former employees across both Wydown locations told Washingtonian they had heard talk about the business expanding in the near future, contrary to McCracken’s stated plans to wind down Wydown. In a subsequent statement, McCracken said they had “no recent plans” of expansion: “Your source is misinformed.” He did not respond to further questions about the closure and employees’ allegations.

Jamee Mendez, a former baker who worked at the H Street Wydown for about two years, says she was drawn to the unionization effort because the cafe’s bakery lacked air conditioning, leading to stifling heat, even outside of DC’s notoriously muggy summers.

“Everyone was really friendly with each other, but relating to the bosses, we had no communication,” she says.

Chandler says baristas were paid $11 an hour plus tips. While DC law requires employers to make up the difference if an employee’s take-home pay after tips falls short of the District’s $17 hourly minimum wage, Chandler says they would rarely exceed that amount, as many people don’t tip baristas.

Holly Costanzo, who worked as a barista on H Street, says her hours were often sporadic, making it hard to earn a full-time living. “I don’t really have the time or energy for another job because they schedule me so inconsistently,” she says. “I go home and I crash. I don’t really have time for anything else.”

Costanzo added that the dispute between management and workers had escalated last week when employees at the H Street location confronted McCracken and his brother, co-owner Chad McCracken, during work hours about their concerns.


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Costanzo says that after the confrontation, she received a positive response from the McCrackens, who apologized to her for “letting the team down,” she says.

Then, days later, she lost her job.

Arya Hodjat
Editorial Fellow