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Now, this question: When is a Starbucks not a Starbucks? Today, the coffee giant opened a new store in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. But you won't see that ubiquitous Starbucks logo. This cafe is called 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea. And aside from the words, inspired by Starbucks, in smaller print on the front door, there is nary a hint of the true owner.
From Seattle, NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports.
WENDY KAUFMAN: For more than three decades, Starbucks has been building a brand, spreading its name around the globe. Now the company is setting aside that corporate image as it tries to create a store with the vibe of an independent neighborhood cafe.
Mr. D. MAJOR COHEN (Project Manager, Starbucks): If you look around here, there is no standard coffee brewer.
KAUFMAN: Major Cohen, the cafe's project manager, gave reporters a sneak peek yesterday.
Mr. COHEN: So if you come in for a coffee tomorrow, and you look in the open bins, and you say, wow, I'd like to try that Guatemala Antigua, we'll measure the…
KAUFMAN: You can grab and go, or sit in this spare and sophisticated space that looks and feels more like a wine bar than a coffee shop. That's no accident. The wine and beer will be served. As for the coffee, the beans will be Starbucks. But they will be roasted in smaller batches. And baristas will make lattes on traditional espresso machines. Cohen calls all this a re-imagination and says customers will be surprised.
Mr. COHEN: They're going to be shocked. And we hope that they're curious and that they come in here and discover new things about Starbucks and that they have a different perception of Starbucks, better I hope, but they're going to have - clearly going to have a sense that we're presenting ourselves differently here.
KAUFMAN: Cohen bristles just a bit at the suggestion that the new cafe exposes some of the weaknesses of the old, but even company CEO Howard Schultz has bemoaned that Starbucks had lost its soul, hardly surprising when you have more than 15,000 stores.
Many ideas for the new cafe came from inside the corporation, but others came from scouting trips. Starbucks folks visited places like Seattle Coffee Works more than once. One of that café's owners, Sebastian Simsch, says he was flattered, but…
Mr. SEBASTIAN SMIRCH (Co-owner, Seattle Coffee Works): We are a coffeehouse. Coffeehouses have been around for many, many centuries. What are we doing that they can't figure out on their own?
Mr. SCOTT BEDBURY (Brand Consultant, Starbucks): One of the challenges for Starbucks today, it's not opening more stores, that's for sure. It's getting more out of what they have.
KAUFMAN: Brand consultant Scott Bedbury says by offering entertainment, beer and wine, Starbucks' new café can bring in customers when it would otherwise be empty.
Bedbury, who worked at Starbucks for many years, likes the 15th Avenue Cafe for another reason. Starbucks, he says, expanded too far, too fast. Now, if it wants to grow, it'll have to move in a different direction.
Mr. BEDBURY: Every brand has a stretch point. You know, I call it the Spandex rule: You can only push them so far, so wide and so fast. And you don't overheat any one brand. You may develop a second brand. You may develop a third brand.
KAUFMAN: On the street in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, we asked Penny Lane and Eric Fleish for their reaction to Starbucks' potential second brand.
Ms. PENNY LANE: I'm looking at the exterior, and I'm really liking their style, from what I can see.
Mr. ERIC FLEISH: It's totally insidious to, like, masquerade, to trick the people who are specifically boycotting Starbucks into going to their place anyway.
KAUFMAN: Fleish, who hails from Boston, worries that what Starbucks starts in Seattle will move east, but Starbucks says its only planned expansion of the cafe concept is two more cafes in Seattle.
Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.
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