14 Freshly-Brewed Facts About Starbucks
When Starbucks marketing director Howard Schultz visited Milan, Italy in 1983 and realized the city was home to more than 1500 coffee bars, a cartoon light bulb appeared over his head. Four years later, the ambitious Schultz acquired Starbucks—which had previously only sold ground coffee in bags, with no single servings—and proceeded to turn it from a six-store Seattle operation into a global phenomenon. Unlock the secrets of your home away from home with these 14 frothy facts.
1. There’s a Ban on Smells.
Because aroma is so crucial to the Starbucks experience, Schultz laid down the law early on: Nothing can interfere with the smell of their freshly-ground coffee. The stores banned smoking in the late 1980s, years before it became commonplace; employees are asked not to wear perfume or cologne; and under no circumstances is pastrami to be stored anywhere on the premises.
2. The Mermaid Used to Show Nipple.
The siren of the famous Starbucks logo is intended to represent the seductive power of coffee, with her hair tastefully covering any hint of immodesty. But when Starbucks was still a regional chain in 1970s Seattle, their logo was far more candid: The mermaid had fully-exposed breasts. Some customers commented on it, but it didn’t become scandalous until the company began making deliveries and had to put their signage on trucks. Reluctant to traffic in portable nudity, the logo was revised.
3. There Have Been Stores Made Out of Old Shipping Containers.
In a monument to the company’s eco-friendly attitude, several stores built out of retired shipping containers have opened since 2011. Some use run-off drains to feed rainwater to nearby vegetation; others use local materials such as discarded wooden fencing to complete the job. The recycled storefronts are typically drive-thru only, but video cameras allow patrons to see a friendly barista's face. At 1000 square feet, they’re also smaller than a typical store—and Starbucks has every intention of using that tiny footprint to burrow its way into locations previously thought to be too small to lease.
4. An Immunologist Cracked the Coffee Code.
Infectious disease specialist Don Valencia was essentially just goofing off in 1990 when he developed a coffee bean extract that smelled and tasted just like the real thing. After neighbors couldn’t tell the difference between his sample and fresh coffee, he tried it out on a barista. Eventually, word got to Starbucks executives, who hired Valencia in 1993. Using his discovery to branch out into retail sales, Starbucks quickly became a top-seller of bottled coffee and super-premium ice cream—for a time, they even outsold pint-sized king Häagen-Dazs.
5. Managers Were Forced to Play with Mr. Potato Head.
Eager to ramp up efficiency in the face of stiffer competition in 2009, Starbucks dispatched executive Scott Heydon for some updated managerial training. To demonstrate how employees can cut down on idle time behind the counter, Heydon instructed managers to assemble a Mr. Potato Head toy and then put him back in his box in under 45 seconds. At least one supervisor was able to pick up the scattered pieces and re-assemble the spud in under 16 seconds.
6. The Starbucks CIA Location Is As Secretive As You’d Expect.
Like most office buildings, the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Va. runs on caffeine. But it doesn’t run like a typical Starbucks: Baristas undergo background checks and aren't allowed to leave their posts without a CIA escort. Customer names cannot be called out or written on cups due to security concerns. Despite the precautions, it’s still a social atmosphere: According to the Washington Post, one key member of the team that assisted in locating Osama bin Laden was recruited there.
7. The Employee Dress Code is Very Specific.
When Schultz opened his line of Il Giornale espresso bars in 1985, he mandated employees wear the bowties and crisp white shirts common in Italy. The current dress code [PDF] has relaxed on the Pee-Wee attire but still insists on a certain kind of conformity. Rings cannot have stones; brightly-colored purple or pink hair is not welcome; untucked shirts can’t expose your midsection when bending over; ear gauges should be less than 10mm. Think you're going to sport a face tattoo or septum ring? Mister, the only thing you’re brewing is trouble.
8. Nonfat Milk Resulted in a Corporate Stand-Off.
When Howard Behar came to Starbucks as an executive in 1989, he was dismayed to find that many customers had filled out comment cards voicing their desire for nonfat milk. But Schultz and his team had decided they didn’t like the taste and that nonfat wasn’t authentically Italian. Behar argued that customers should get whatever they wanted. Store managers protested, but when Schultz personally witnessed a customer walk out over the lack of options, he relented. Today, half of the company’s cappuccinos and lattes are frothed without fat.
9. They Have a Ski-Thru.
Skiers in Squaw Valley, California looking for a caffeine fix don’t have to take off their equipment: the Starbucks at the Gold Coast Resort is open to visitors via a Ski-Thru. They also take orders from the aerial lift. What could be better?
10. You Can Get A Butterbeer Frappucino.
The preferred thirst-quencher for Harry Potter fans, Butterbeer isn’t really available outside of the books or the Universal Studios attraction—but you can get a pretty good approximation by requesting a Frappucino with caramel syrup, caramel drizzle, and toffee nut syrup.
11. The Round Tables May Help You Feel Less Lonely.
Feeling self-conscious about sitting in a Starbucks by yourself? Don’t be: the round tables are there to help. The company believes that circular dining areas can make a space feel less empty when compared to the stern edges of a rectangular or square table. They don’t want you to feel alone. So, so alone.
12. The Disney Starbucks Has Magic Chalkboards.
When Starbucks opened at Downtown Disney in Orlando, Florida, some of the company’s trademark features were tweaked to fit their magical affiliation. The chalkboard was re-imagined as a 70-inch touch screen that can render illustrations in real time. Customers can also “draw” on the screen using their fingers, take selfies, and see what visitors in Disney’s Anaheim Starbucks are up to.
13. Some Stores Have the Technology For The Greatest Cup of Coffee Possible.
Starbucks cares a great deal about serving an excellent cup of coffee. Employees never let brewed pots sit for more than 30 minutes, and stores use no artificially-flavored grounds. The next giant leap in bean prep might be the Clover, a proprietary machine engineered by Stanford that costs $13,000 to install and uses a vacuum and elevator system to shoot coffee grounds upward with precision water temperatures; the result is said to be a peerless experience. If you’re lucky enough to be near a store that has one, expect to pay up to $5 a cup.
14. Even If You’re Not in a Starbucks, You Might Be In a Starbucks.
Starbucks is both a progressive and staunchly familiar brand. They want to innovate without alienating their loyal customer base. One solution has been to design and open a series of “stealth stores” that serve Starbucks coffee while going by another name, like 15th Avenue E Coffee and Tea in Seattle. Freed from the trappings of a conventional location, these undercover stores can offer live music and serve beer or wine. The company has eyes on opening roughly 100 similar locations in the future.
Additional Sources: Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup At a Time.