[Homeroast] (resending )The Dreaded Starbucks

Sandy Andina sandraandina at mac.com
Mon Mar 8 02:30:30 CST 2010

I lived in Seattle from 1971-8, when I was in my twenties, and Starbucks had yet to become predatory in its practices by the time I moved to Chicago. In fact, they didn't even SELL coffee as a beverage--just the ingredients to make it. 

Far from Seattle being a "coffee town," when I arrived the only coffee on the Ave. (University Way) itself was in the donut shop Spudnuts (made in an industrial drip urn) and the student-run concession in the Architecture building (a "mocha" made from brewed coffee mixed with instant cocoa. Blech). For the longest time, the only coffeehouse in the U. District was Last Exit on Brooklyn: the home of the funky vibe, open mic, vegetarian fare, turbo-chess, and DREADFUL espresso.  (They used to grind a week's worth at a time and keep it on the counter in a Saran-Wrap-covered bowl. No wonder they did a land-office business in mochas and other flavored coffee-milk drinks, most capped with whipped cream).  And they weren't open past 9 pm most nights. It wasn't until at least 1975 or 1976 that Cafe Allegro opened on the Ave. (and it wasn't easy to find in a little rabbit-warren of interior storefronts without a street entrance).  For really good beans, and the chance to drink them on-site, you had to go to Olive's East in Southcenter Mall or east Bellevue (in a factory and auto-shop district). In fact, I think that at the time they may have been a larger chain than Starbucks. And I forget the name of the place, but on NE Campus Rd., a block n. of my apt. on Pacific & 15th NE, in early 1978 a stand-up espresso bar opened between the coin laundry and Ice-Nine Xerography.  I remember coming home from a week in the Bay Area in '74, seriously jonesing at 9pm on a Saturday night for an espresso or cappuccino.  Not even a Pioneer Sq. cafe was open. I had to settle for a flip-drip Neapolitan demitasse at the Italian Spaghetti House on Lake City Way.  Seattle had yet to become a coffee town until at least 1979 or later.

Starbucks hadn't even spread past Seattle yet. When I left, it had the Airport Way roastery, the original store in Pike Place Mkt. (it had a competitor in Pike Place Coffee, Tea & Spice, also not a drink vendor), and the University Village store.  The first branch outside the PNW was here in Chicago, on E. Jackson & S. Wabash in the Loop in 1985, and it was a near-flop. 

In Seattle, you remember Starbucks becoming predatory, as it later became nationwide, and forcing out indie coffeehouses. But it took years before it even morphed into a coffeehouse chain--after Schultz returned from Italy in the 1980s. And he was such a purist at first that he refused to offer decaf or any milk other than whole.

On Mar 8, 2010, at 1:16 AM, Kris McN wrote:

> Hey Ryan,
> As well as what everyone's already said about the quality of their product,
> I have a personal chip on my shoulder about Starbucks.  I grew up in Seattle
> in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.  Seattle was a coffee town before Starbucks
> hegemony, a small independent coffee house on most busy blocks.  When
> Starbucks decided to take over the world, I watched as they would open up
> one of their shops across the street or kitty corner to an established
> independent.  Over and over.  Sometimes the independent could hold on, but
> more often than not they  would end up closing.  Sure, some Seattle coffee
> institutions, particularly around the university, outlived the onslaught.
> This isn't based on any data or anything, but to this pissed off teenager,
> it seemed like Starbucks nearly killed the independent Seattle coffee scene
> for awhile.  I know what they did is probably good business, and maybe in
> the long run it ended up just weeding out the crappy small purveyors,
> eventually resulting in a stronger coffee scene, I don't know since I don't
> live in Seattle any longer.  But it was gross and depressing then, and
> whenever I pass a Starbucks today that would look, feel, and smell exactly
> the same whether in Detroit, Seattle, or London, I mumble a curse.
> Best,
> Kris McN
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Peace & song, 

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