Starbucks wants to introduce America to Italian aperitivo culture.
A bar offering pairings of appetite-inducing cocktails with ingredients such as Aperol and Campari, served alongside aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Cerignola green olives, anchors one corner of the company's new Reserve store, which opened on the ground floor of its headquarters building in Seattle Tuesday.
It's the first of up to 1,000 such high-end stores Starbucks plans to open as it spends big on an expansion toward a higher-end, fuller-service part of the food and beverage market. Starbucks founder and chairman Howard Schultz sees falling rents in premium retail locations easing the way for his plans.
The Reserve store would feel familiar to someone who has visited the company's larger Roastery stores in Seattle or Shanghai. New Roasteries will open over the next two years in Milan, New York, Tokyo and Chicago.
But while the Roasteries, with their centerpiece coffee roasters, have an explicit educational and entertainment function — "the theater of coffee," in the words of one Starbucks spokeswoman — the Reserve stores' scale and layout hews closer to the company's concept of a "third place" to gather when cravings shift from caffeine to booze.
"We want to be a part of the community and are looking forward to being a stop on the way to sporting events, on the way to theater, on the way to concerts," said Shauna McKenzie-Lee, director of operations for the Roastery and Reserve formats.
The Roasteries could perhaps be justified as loss leaders for their hagiographic treatment of coffee and the Starbucks brand — particularly its championing of small-farm, small-batch, single-origin coffees. But the number of the Reserve stores indicates they will have to make money on their own merits.
Wall Street analysts have pressured company executives about spending associated with the shift to higher-end store formats. Starbucks would not disclose what it cost to build its first Reserve store. At 8,100 square feet including the back of the house, Seattle's Reserve is four times larger than a typical Starbucks.