SHAFAQNA –Early Friday, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room mega-store opens its specially carved teak doors in Seattle’s chi-chi Capitol Hill. Part store, part theater and part made-for-social-media buzz, it’s also a savvy tourist attraction. The store is big not just in size, but aspirations.
This is not your neighborhood Starbucks. At 15,000 square feet, it could house about a dozen conventional Starbucks stores. But there’s nothing conventional about this java joint, which mixes Willy Wonka glitz with extreme coffee culture. Starbucks gave USA TODAY an exclusive, early tour of the store where coffee isn’t just sold, but also roasted, bagged and shipped around the world.
Think of the Starbucks Roastery as a gathering spot for the well-to-do, where industrial age aesthetic meets information age reality. At a time when fewer customers are heading into retail stores in shopping malls or on Main Street, it’s a gutsy move. Starbucks is attempting to create traffic and buzz not just with new multisyllabic beverage concoctions and some expensive brand burnishing. Here, upscale amenities, such as designer foods and craft coffees, aim to lure a more affluent and diverse clientele.
And, of course, to boost the bottom line. While Starbucks has expanded into everything from juices to grocery store goods, this is a U-turn back to its coffee roots. In a technology age, it’s a reminder that without the coffee bean, there is no Starbucks. This, even as the company that had wowed investors with double-digit same-store sales jumps cooled in its fourth fiscal quarter to a more modest 5% increase.
The store opens the day after Starbucks wrapped its biennial investor conference, where the company unveiled the first “Mobile Order & Pay” platform in the Portland, Ore., area, with a national roll-out planned for 2015. Schultz said that the new system will lead to food and drink delivery in some markets later next year. And Starbucks plans to double U.S. food revenue to more than $5 billion over the next five years, in part by expanding wine and beer to more stores.
But the loudest and clearest message from Starbucks is the sheer physical presence of the new Starbucks Roastery. The smell of the roasting coffee permeates the air like invisible java junkie insulin.The sights and sounds of the overhead pneumatic transfer tubes — where the coffee beans are whisked from loading bay to roasters to coffee silos — are riveting. A 32-foot-high Copper Cast, where beans rest after roasting, shines like a newly minted penny. There’s a Coffee Experience Bar where a Starbucks Coffee Master demonstrates eight brewing techniques.
Prepare to pay for the extravagance. Bagged coffee can fetch $16 a pound or more. The cheapest cup of coffee is $3. The most expensive — a 32-ounce cup of its exclusive Pantheon Blend — is $8. Three 12-ounce coffee samples at the Coffee Experience Bar will set you back $15.
Perfectly displayed merchandise is lit with museum-quality lighting. Just in time for the holidays, colorful, hand-blown drinking glasses for iced coffee go for $75 each. A waxed canvas apron like the baristas wear in this store fetches $149.95. Italian-made espresso machines are yours for $3,000.
Liz Muller talks about the new Starbucks Roastery.(Photo: Scott Eklund, for USA TODAY)
“This is the theater of coffee,” says Liz Muller, creative vice president of global design, who oversaw store construction the past year. “We wanted to create a space to reinvent retail for the 21st century.”
Schultz wants the store as a symbolic exclamation mark on the Starbucks Reserve coffee brand and to spread its distribution internationally. And to educate folks from bean to cup. But most of all, this store is a monument to Schultz’s inner drive to top all takers. At a time many folks are going out less, Schultz says that the Roastery “will shine a bright light on everything Starbucks.”
Perhaps it’s something more like a searchlight. This is really Seattle trying to put on the Hollywood glitz. By spring, there will even be tour buses zipping the nine blocks from the very first Starbucks store that opened in 1971 near Pike Place Market to the Roastery, which aims to be Seattle’s most talked-about gathering spot.
The store redefines the retail flagship store of the future, says Scott Bedbury, a brand consultant and former marketing chief at both Starbucks and Nike.
Sure, NikeTown stores in New York and Chicago are amazing, but you don’t actually see the shoes being manufactured. Toys R Us has a flagship store in New York’s Times Square, but the toys aren’t made there, either. At the Roastery, you can see, hear, feel, smell and taste the product being made. “The brand is being defined at its very best for the world to see,” says Bedbury.
Even so, the store has limits, warns Temple University history professor Bryant Simon, author of Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks. “It will generate a lot of publicity,” he says, “But I don’t think it will win over hipsters, writers and coffee people to the brand.” These are folks who are, typically, less interested in show, he says.
Starbucks is heavily betting that Simon’s dead wrong. They decline to discuss the investment in the new store — which replaced a former Volvo dealership — but it’s clearly a lot. A second Roastery will likely be built next year in Asia, but Schultz won’t disclose where.
Meantime, the facility will allow Starbucks to expand its profitable Reserve coffee line, to be sold at 1,500 locations globally. And Starbucks plans to open at least 100 other stores — including locations in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — designed to highlight craft coffees.
But the Seattle store will be one-of-a-kind, says Muller. All the wood, steel and other materials are American made. And if you really happen to like the place, it is available for group meetings, birthdays or wedding events. A back area (where there’s an educational coffee library next to the Coffee Experience Bar) can be rented for $200 for three hours, or $500 per day.
Then, there’s the food, that’s anything but run-of-the-mill Starbucks fare. The menu is by Seattle-area chef Tom Douglas, who also partnered with Starbucks to open a Serious Pie pizza restaurant inside the building that sells cocktails, beer and wine. A few vintages will set you back $80 or more per bottle.
Unlike most Starbucks locations, there is nothing automated at the Roastery, says Tiffany Broderson, vice president of Roastery and Reserve operations. “This is all about craft,” she says.
With all of the audio and visual trappings, it’s noisy. But Muller insists it’s no more so than a busy conventional Starbucks. “This is not just a cafe, but a coffee club,” she says. “Besides, life is active. The journey of coffee has sounds to it and we wanted to share that.”
By her estimates, 1,000 to 2,000 customers will come in daily.
“We have built a stage,” she says, proudly, looking around the dizzying room that even has live coffee bean trees. “It’s the full story of Starbucks.”
No curtains will rise, but Act 1 begins at 8 a.m. Friday, when the doors open to what’s certain to be Seattle’s hottest ticket.
Get in line.
Starbucks is offering a lucky few customers free food and drinks for 30 years, among other prizes. VPC