Caribou Coffee closing select Chicago area locations

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Caribou Coffee is closing stores in the Chicago-area and longtime employees and customers are steaming.

Douglas Kwiecinski, manager of the store on Aurora Road in Naperville, says he was told in a conference call Friday that 80 “underperforming” locations outside the company’s home base in Minnesota are being shut down, effective Sunday, April 14th. His store is on the list and he was given only 9 days notice that he was losing his job.

Caribou Coffee closing select Chicago area locations“It’s tough. It’s a decision that came from up top,” said Kwiecinski. “It’s not the decision I would have made. All I can do is be strong for my team and for the customers that keep coming in.”

There are 66 Caribou Coffee locations in Illinois, according to the company’s website. Exactly how many are closing and how many jobs will be lost remains unclear. A spokesperson for the company did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.

On Monday, WGN learned that most of Caribou Coffee’s downtown Chicago cafes will stay open but most suburban locations will close. Less than two years ago, Caribou announced it was expanding its presence in the Chicago area,  which is Caribou’s second largest market following Minneapolis.

A German investment company bought Caribou last December. That company also owns Peet’s Coffee and plans to eventually convert the remaining Caribou Coffee stores in the Chicago area to Peet’s Coffee stores.

Customers and employees have taken social media to complain about the closings, including one Facebook page urging people to “Boycott Caribou Coffee.”

Caribou released a statement saying:

“Over the past few months, we at Caribou have revisited our business strategy, including closely evaluating our performance by market to make decisions that best position us for long-term growth.  With that, we will be closing 80 underperforming stores on April 14th, and an additional 88 coffeehouses across Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Illinois and Eastern Wisconsin will be converted to Peet’s Coffee & Tea locations over the next 12 to 18 months. Going forward, Caribou Coffee will be made up of 468 locations across Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Western Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina, Denver, and ten international markets. While the decisions we’ve made have been difficult for our team in Minneapolis, as well as our team members across the country and our guests and fans everywhere, we are working to make this transition as seamless as possible for the Caribou community. We look forward to continuing to deliver extraordinary experiences to our guests and fans, and thank everyone for their passion and commitment to Caribou.”

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  • Juan Valdez

    What kind of dopey response is "boycott Caribou coffee"? If they're 'underperforming', wouldn't that indicate that you've already been boycotting them, and store closings are the logical result? Besides – Caribou's a decent coffee, but Peet's is better . . . . . so relax, brew another pot, and wait to see what happens.

    • Emily

      Closing over 100 stores not only in Chicago but all caribous in Michigan and Ohio markets with giving their employees nine days notice is not a time to "relax, brew another pot and wait to see what happens".

    • Maxwell Brother

      What's so great about Peet's? I remember trying it back in Berkeley, and it was more burnt than Starbucks. Nothing special there. Caribou has atmosphere, and it was always one of the first places I'd visit when I made trips back home. Peet's has a store design that's just as boring Starbucks, too, and there are already too many of those around. It'll be a shame not to be able to return to the warmth of a Caribou Coffee. I'm really sorry to hear about the way they've treated their employees. Sadly, Peet's sold itself out to the same zit cream and condom hawking company, so we'll see if their stores don't meet a similar fate some time down the line, when the big boss gets tired of the coffee business altogether.

    • Amy

      Boycott? I agree with you. No point in a boycott. Enjoy while it lasts (as I am right now), and hope your favorite Caribou stays opened

    • crystal

      I just found out this morning – saw the closing sign on my local Caribou. Ironic the store was just remodeled last year and according to employees 'sales have been up' at the location. There must be some type of re-structuring going on.

  • ellen

    Never liked Caribou Coffee….love Peet's however….hope the purchase doesn't weaken their wonderful coffee….as for Caribou, meh….if it means more Peet's in Chgo area, that's a bonus.

  • mje

    how rude to say relax and brew another pot. did you lose your job over this? And the store I worked at was NOT under performing one bit agreed…boycott or give the money you would on coffee as tips to the people who are devistated.

  • Christy

    Comments like Ellen's are boorish. "If it means more Peet's in Chicago, bonus." It means hundreds of people are out of work. Forget about your coffee for half a second and have some empathy.

  • Barb

    The orignal Caribou Company didn't let you all down. The German Company that bought Caribou did. I doubt the original owners knew what was coming.Hopefully, they'll keep some people on. It's terrible that so many will lose jobs and with essentially no warning. My heart felt sympathies to you. Wish I owned a Bigby franchise and could hire someone!

    • Working Hard

      This is what happens when a local 'family run' business is bought out by a faceless 'stepfather', it turns into just one ugly stepchild.
      We've see the downsizing of staff at places like McDonald''s, Burger King, White Castle's, and big box stores already.

      I'll be expecting many similiar slaps to our local 'family' faces in the months to come as that Obama guy strips more and more 'family values' away from us. Family values replaced by his economic mess, his unemployment mess, the girth of the 'entitlement monster' getting bigger and bigger, and hungrier and hungrier.

    • Karen

      I agree Barb. I worked for Caribou when it was just the husband and wife owners and everything was hand made and slow brewed to perfection. I know they had their reason for selling and it is definately the German Company NOT the original owners. Great couple. So dont bash people if you dont know what you are talking about.

  • SteveB

    Remember White Hen? Very good coffee then 7-11 bought them. Now I make my own, fill a Thermos, and NEVER buy coffee from 7-11.

  • momlinda

    First, the employees are getting a severance package. Second, there are lots of coffee shops looking for experienced baristas. You all know people who have changed companies – find your former fellow employees and see if you can get the inside referral. We hired one Caribou barista already and are interviewing two more from our local Caribou to work at another well known coffee cafe.

    • Working Hard

      How good of a severence package? I can't imagine it being more than a couple of weeks of pay at best. That's not much considering the career loss and having to search for another 'specialized' job.

      If you're hiring, how come now? Wouldn't you have hired as needed and not because of these closurers? Sound like one of those computer tech career recruiters of yesteryear with the carrot out on a stick, to collect names, shoot people out on interviews and then not take their calls.

    • eab

      I'm one of the employees who is losing her job. There is no severance package. Nothing. After my last shift, the money stops. Plain and simple. And hundreds of baristas are now looking for a new job. You've hired one? Good for you.

  • Rightasrain

    What a shame so many people are losing their jobs. Many of you here (like the boorish Ellen) seem concerned only with themselves and their coffee drinking preferences. And momlinda, there are NOT enough barista jobs to go around, believe me. Starbucks and other emporiums cannot absorb all those who will find themselves out of work, so before you go spouting off about hiring a couple of people (as though you are The Saint of the Barista), take a deep breath and realize dear that this isn't about YOU or your alleged business! I notice you don't even mention your business name which makes me wonder if you're just blathering about something that isn't even true. You sound cold, indifferent, arrogant, and frankly, totally fake.

    We will all live without Caribou, of course, but it was a great place. Starbucks not so much. The latter was okay but we vastly preferred Caribou.

  • M H

    Thanks for covering this, WGN. I have frequented Caribou in the burbs for several months and am sad to see my store closing with very little notice or consideration given to its employees or customers.

  • Ramone

    My heart goes out to everyone that just lost their job. This is something that is so awful to go through during this economy. Though I am not sure what good a boycott will do, but drive more people out of jobs for the stores that will remain open. Why is caribou such a bad company for closing some of its stores? Starbucks had to close 600 stores before. Any business closing is awful. Reading some of these posts- What does Obama have to do with the stores closing? You can’t pin that on him.

  • Bou woo woo

    Not shocked at all, I quit Caribou as a GM couple yrs ago. Their managers are overworked and underpaid and they really do not care about their employees. It all comes down to $$ and profitability. How many pounds of coffee can we get the customer to buy, how much $ did we sell in retail and all that other crap. I was bounced around from store to store w/ no stability and put in stores nowhere near my home. Feel bad for the people that are losing their jobs, but this was foreseen many yrs ago. The Dm's treat you like garbage and have zero respect for you as a person and Corporate lays out all the changes that need to be implemented w/o any regard for the people that actually work in the stores!

  • NBW

    The parent company owns Avon, Coty, and Jimmy Choo. They do care about what they are doing to Caribou and their employees.

  • BOO, 'Bou!

    Caribou Coffee customers are very loyal to a good brand and a warm, welcoming, relaxed atmosphere at every location. Quite uncommon to have a memorably bad experience at Caribou. The baristas are generally friendly and attentive.

    I sincerely doubt that Caribou's founders envisioned this type of treatment for customers or employees.

    Business is business. I understand that "underperforming" stores are a drain on the entire business. What is curious are a number of business decisions made by the company over the past handful of years. What is troubling: the manner in which this was handled, the mistreatment of loyal customers, the indifference to many loyal, hardworking employees.

    When corporate management ties the hands of local store managers with respect to driving traffic and they bunch stores close together in poor retail locations, not only are those responsible for those decisions wasting shareholder resources, they're also ensuring failure. It's a typical failure of incompetent middle management.

    The employees are being treated like an expendable pawn on the chess board. Only the lives affected in this real-life chess match have much more to lose than merely being swept off the board. They will recover. Life goes on. But the maltreatment belies the disingenuous concern of Caribou's public comments. "Doing all we can?" "Utmost concern for the welfare of our employees?" Indeed!

  • Conchita

    Couple of things:
    The (relatively) new owners of Caribou do not own Avon Products.
    I wonder if employees in Germany could be terminated with nine days' notice?

  • Thefactofthematter

    Things change. Businesses come and go. This is hardly the end of the world, i.e., life goes on. Please put it in its proper perspective. It's a shame for those who will now be out of work, however, especially in this economy. We liked Caribou and enjoyed going there. Starbucks not as much, but they're okay.

  • love Caribou

    I like Caribou much more than starbucks. I hate to see them go. I hope that the affected employees can weather this storm…. and perhaps get work at the new Peet's if they even want to or even if the company opens the new stores like it said the would.

  • Lin

    I likeed our Caribou location very much and it was always full…can't imagine how it was considered an underperformer! But I have to admit I never like the coffee or pastries anywhere near as much as other places, even McDonalds. Hope some new coffee shop opens at the corner of NW Hway and Emerson…this was a great gathering place!


    Almost every store in Illinois lost money- PERIOD. They do not care about the employees or the customers. As a manager I saw them collect coffee for the troops in December and throw the coffee away in February! A Disgrace! The DM's could not give a shit less- they had thee highest turnover rate in the industry! As any regular in any suburb could tell you.

  • Light Roast

    I am devastated about my Caribou closing. I go every morning 7 days a week and I love their always delightful light roasts. Our little downtown in Mount Prospect will never be quite the same. Caribou is part of the fabric of this town. A welcome retreat where townspeople, police fire and village workers came by to enjoy a fresh cup and say hi to the always friendly staff. It was more than just a coffee shop to me. It started my day with a cup of 'joy'. The entire community is sad and angry about losing our beloved Caribou. I don't like Starbucks-too bitter and Dunkin Donuts coffee is ok but doesn't share that same 'sense of community' you got from going to Caribou. I'm heartbroken for everyone in our town who loved going there and heartbroken for the employees who no longer have a job.

  • Wisconsinite

    Does anyone else think there are just too many of these types of stores ? Way over priced all of them. The free market is making a normal adjustment. Give me a good cup of coffee @ a local joint and I' m good with that.

    • BOO, 'Bou!

      Hard to say "too many" when so many people — employees and customers — are heartbroken by the closings. Were they profitable? If not, why not? How were the hands of local managers tied by remote corporate decision-makers?

      That's the charm of the Caribou brand. They adopt a local feel and truly become part of the community. They will be missed.

      • wisconsinite

        if a customer is heartbroken over a coffee joint closing then they need alot of "counseling" you need counseling?

  • Eric

    Thats unbelievable! I personally know Mr. K who was interviewed and quoted in the beginning of this report, and he is such a great and caring person, as well as a wonderful manager for his store location. These are the people that you really need to think about in situations like these…the hard working, blue collar, middle class that dedicate their time to staying true to businesses like these, moving up the ranks over time, and only to kicked out the back door, being given only slightly more than a weeks notice!

    Think about if this person was your father, and this meant him losing his job, and the income that was necessary to support you and the rest of your family. I'm sure if you actually stopped and considered how many people this is actually affecting, you might see the bigger picture…

  • LoveMyBous

    My Caribou in Gurnee, IL is more than a coffee shop…it's become a part of my life and the lives of so many people in this community. I personally have 10 years worth of memories here; everything from writing school papers to playing cards with friends til the place closed for the night. And the way we are valued by the employees has been a big reason that we keep coming back. We're more than customers to them, we are individuals they remember and care about. My heart breaks for all of the people losing their jobs over this, and the patrons who no longer have their own Caribous to retreat to any longer.

    • Stacey

      I agree that Caribou was much more than just a coffee shop. It was all about the people. No where else are the people as friendly as Caribou. It had such a nice and friendly atmosphere. So much better than Starbucks! Both the employees and the customers were very friendly. I went there all the time in the morning. I feel sad.

  • Kerowyn

    It's great fthat those of you in the city, with a Starbucks on every corner, are keeping your stores and getting them re-named. But how fair is it that those of us in the suburburbs are lsosing almost everyone. I think it is very interesting that the stores that are staying open are in the wealthy areas, like Northbrook and Lake Forest. All within a couple of miles of each other. If they really cared about the 'underperformance' they wouldn't keep the ones that are so close together. They would maybe close Hoffman Estates, but keep Schaumburg open. Keep Libertyville, while they close Vernon Hills. Looks to me like they are leaving the middle class so they can pour money into the rich.

  • Marcie

    Carbou is much better than Starbucks. At Starbucks they cheat you on their cupichinos. They only give one shot of expresso with foamy milk on top where as Caribou gives two shots of expresso with the foam on top! Starbucks also charges for refills on plain on coffee and Caribou never did that!

  • Gloria

    I couldn't believe it when my Caribou Coffee closed in Crystal Lake, IL. I like it so much better than any other coffee shop. Loved that you could get the cafe mocha in dark chocolate. I will have to go to the one in Lake Geneva now!