Stealth Starbucks: Seattle-based coffee giant opening neighborhood shops in disguise
July 17, 2009
In the continued flailings of the Starbucks chain, here's a new one: the stealth Starbucks store.
A Seattle outlet of the 16,000-store coffee behemoth is being rebranded without visible Starbucks identifiers, as 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea.
Two other stores in Starbucks' native Seattle will follow suit, each getting its own name to make it sound more like a neighborhood hangout, less like Big Coffee, a Starbucks official told The Seattle Times on Thursday.
"The Goliath is coming at me under a new name," said Dan Ollis, owner of Victrola Coffee Roasters, a coffee shop on 15th Avenue in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, about a block-and-a-half from the made-over Starbucks set to open next week.
Ollis had noticed teams of Starbucks employees in his shop, making notes and actually placing them in folders marked "Observations." The new store will echo the Victrola policy, for instance, of serving wine and beer alongside its beans.
Ollis had a question: "Are they going to go to Chicago and go against Intelligentsia? Is that what their new game plan is?"
We tried to ask Starbucks, but got no response Thursday. If the chain -- which has been trying to boost profits by experimenting with instant coffee, super-premium coffee and more -- does come at the locals in the cafe equivalent of unmarked cars, the locals will be ready.
"They must be conceding something. They must be feeling they can't compete on a neighborhood level," said Tony Dreyfuss, an owner of Metropolis Coffee Company, in the Edgewater neighborhood. "It does feel a little bit sneaky to me. But our quality is better than theirs, I feel, and our customers know us. "
Chicagoans, he said, won't fall for it: "If they walk in and get the feeling it's a Starbucks in disguise, it's a little off-putting."
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