The Changing Face of Starbucks
After being shunned by the cool kids for seeming too corporate, Starbucks wants to be popular again. Over the past year, the chain has been trying on new outfits faster than a teenage girl getting ready for the prom, especially in the coffee epicenter of Capitol Hill. Kambiz Hemati, Starbucks’ director of global concept design, is the likable geek in this John Hughes drama. Here, he walks us through the new Starbucks cafes and beyond.
15th Avenue Coffee & Tea: Bloggers leapt on the name: It’s a Stealthbucks! “There was no stealth,” says Hemati. “We should have just called it Starbucks and let it go.” Fifteenth was the proving ground for a new aesthetic based on real wood, steel and stone. “These are regular Starbucks chairs,” he says. “We just stripped them, and they became more interesting.”
Roy Street Coffee & Tea: Leather stools made from recycled car seats? Isn’t all this eco-furnishing and high-concept design expensive? “Our goal and our mandate is to do the stores at the same price we did before,” he says. They’ve even worked with GE to develop a warmer compact fluorescent bulb that will save on operating costs without making the place look like a school gymnasium.
Starbucks (Olive Way): Hemati calls the remodel of this large café on Capitol Hill, with multiple seating options and an indoor-outdoor fireplace, “the culmination of the last 18 months.” Low, thin counters will put the customer in close contact with the barista. It will also be the first Starbucks-branded store in the U.S. to serve beer and wine.
So where does this story arc end? Everywhere. Hemati points to the Upper Queen Anne store’s recent renovation. “That store represents the new spirit on a core level,” he says. The company is pursuing LEED certification chainwide, and the new designs are headed to Middle America soon (and current stores will be eventually be redesigned with the new style). The corporate coffee brain is still here in Seattle, and—unlike John Hughes—it’s not dead yet.
Founded in 1992, Tully’s is the perennial Miss Congeniality of chain coffee—it tries so hard. It debuted soft-serve ice cream, then made it low fat. It offered free Wi-Fi before the other guy. For a while, its Frappuccino competitor—currently the Bellaccino—changed names every summer. But the U District location, in the Hotel Deca, shows off Tully’s confident side. It’s the sort of scruffy urban hotel café that would figure in a classic romance, except the young people making eyes here are more likely to be UW students. MAB
Originally published October 2010