Will Starbucks get its soul back?

31 01 2008

starbucksA couple of days ago an article came through on the AP wire regarding a memo issued by Starbucks Chariman Howard Schultz. This memo, delivered to Starbucks top executives about a year ago bemoaned the “watering down of the Starbucks experience. He complained that the company’s unbridled growth had sapped the soul out of the company. In this memo he pointed to the fact that many people find the stores “sterile” and “cookie cutter.”

How often do you see or hear about someone in a position such as Schulz’s being so candid about the company they run? Admitting there is a problem is the first step towards recovery, and Schultz hit the problem right on the head. As Starbucks saturates the market, the funky and cozy coffee houses (remember when they were called that?) have gone by the wayside. People are driven by convenience and efficiency, and its so much easier to pull up to the Starbucks drive-thru to pick up the morning java than to stop at a favorite coffee house and drink inside out of a ceramic cup. The original intent and philosophy behind the coffee house has waned, and in some areas, disappeared. In fact, after Starbucks switched to the fully automated machines, the pungent coffee aroma that used to permeate the air almost completely disappeared as well. Likewise, the craft of “pulling” a great cup of coffee or espresso is non-existent.

Here in San Antonio, I can only think of one coffee house that has retained this eclectic charm and that also serves good coffee. I only know about it because I stumbled upon it. On the other hand, Starbucks has become so ubiquitous through their marketing that even cartoons mimic and parody their logo.

However, hope may be in sight. Schultz is taking steps to bring the soul back to the stores. Different ideas have been tossed around to accomplish this, (like firing the CEO) but their success remains to be seen. I will be waiting in anticipation as I sip an espresso made from my Jura Capresso at home.


Jupiter Java & Jazz [CLOSED]

12 12 2007

To be honest, I like going to Starbucks. Not because of the coffee – I make a much better cup at home on my Capresso – but because of the atmosphere. The individually owned coffee shops are slowly disappearing, not only here in San Antonio, but across the nation. Gone are all the adjectives we used to associate with coffee houses (remember when they were called that?): quaint; peculiar; funky; offbeat; eccentric; cool; hip. Only to be replaced by what can aptly be described as sophisticated monotony. I can go into any Starbucks and expect about the same thing. The same earth tones, the same furniture, the same music, the same green aprons, etc.

That’s why it was a pleasant surprise to discover Jupiter as I was walking down S. Alamo in the historic Southtown. It was night time and the neon sign attracted my attention to the electric purple and bright red colors of the walls and furniture. I was determined to return when I finished eating dinner.

Its a small place with adequate seating with a modern look to the furnishings (Ikea rocks), lighting, and artwork. Everything is neat, organized, clean, and yet comfortable. The place is owned and operated by a husband and wife team who make you feel welcome, and who still believe in serving your coffee in a cup and saucer.

My wife and I ordered a simple cup of coffee. If you can make that right, everything else should just fall in place. The Baristas handle the two-group Faema with skill to pull great tasting cups of coffee. They support the Southtown Mainstreet Alliance when you buy the “Southtown Blend” and they carry about 17 blends of Fair Trade Coffee.

In my opinion, this is what the coffee house is about: good coffee, good atmosphere, and good people. Swing by sometime and support an institution that is fading quickly from our culinary culture.