Shiru Cafe, the coffee shop on Angell Street known for its free drinks, will close its doors Sept. 27 — less than two years after it came to College Hill.
The international chain plans to close all three of its U.S. locations to remain focused on its “continued growth” in Japan and India, U.S. Director of Operations Keith Maher wrote in an email to The Herald.
The cafe, an international chain that branded itself with free in-house drinks for college students in exchange for their data, came to College Hill in February 2018. The Providence location was the Japanese company’s first expansion into the United States before it branched out to New Haven and Amherst.
But as early as December 2018, there were signs that the company was struggling in the United States’ market. That month, The Herald reported that Shiru had not yet secured any corporate sponsors for its U.S. operations, a vital component of its business strategy. This summer, Shiru announced that the company would begin charging for specialty drinks, with prices ranging between $3 and $5.50, a notable deviation from its mission to serve free drinks.
Maher previously told The Herald that the business’s financial trouble was due to a “more elaborate and sophisticated” espresso-based coffee culture in the U.S.
Shiru’s business model relied on the idea that sponsors would pay the coffee chain to advertise job and internship openings and information. In its inception, Shiru offered free Wi-Fi, study space and information about employment opportunities, in addition to free specialty drinks like lattes and cold brew. Earlier this month, Vice President of Client Development and Strategy Steve Horton said “it would be fair to (expect) 20 to 25 (sponsorships) by the end of the year” for the New England cafes, The Herald previously reported.
Despite the branch’s closure, “we are extremely proud of our current team of baristas — many of whom have been with us since opening day — and we’re so grateful for the positive community they’ve helped create at Shiru Cafe,” Maher wrote.