Streetlevel 101: There are two mercantile non-branded Starbucks.

15th Avenue Coffee and Tea - Sept. 2009

15th Avenue Coffee and Tea – Sept. 2009

There are two mercantile non-branded Starbucks. Not three. Not four. TWO. Why am I writing this? I recently was reading a blog entry posted by Jon Cook to a Reuters blog about Starbucks and brand avoidance. To be clear, I understand that not everyone is a Starbucks fan, and there is some intense Starbucks negativity out there.  However, I’ve read a few blogs here and there which confuse various concept and heritage store design branded-Starbucks with the two non-branded “inspired by” Starbucks stores.  This recent Reuters blog begins with the very same mistake which I’ve seen elsewhere on blogs:

“Last week, Roy Street Coffee and Tea, located at the corners of Roy Street and Broadway in Seattle, opened.  This is another one of those stealth Starbucks – Starbucks stores without the Starbucks name over the front door – the coffee giant has been opening in its hometown and in London as of late.”

By reading the above, one might be under the impression that there is a mercantile Starbucks in London, which is simply not true.  The above example confuses the Conduit Street LEED registered concept store with the “street level” non branded Starbucks.  Even more importantly, as I am talking to my friends on twitter, my colleagues, and those around me about the experiences to be had at 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, and Roy Street Coffee, I realize that many people have no idea what I am talking about.

Consider this blog post your introduction to the “mercantile Starbucks” stores, or “Street Level Starbucks“.

So again, there are ONLY TWO “non branded” Starbucks. Sometimes you’ll hear these Starbucks called the “street level stores” or sometimes they’re referred to as the “inspired by Starbucks” and sometimes it is the “mercantile Starbucks”.  Pick your pleasure which of those phrases you want to use to describe these TWO stores.  And again, the two stores are 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea and Roy Street Coffee.

So the logical question is “what’s different about these stores?”.  I want to answer that question from the perspective of someone who spends time in these two non-branded locations. I’ve read writers/bloggers talk about these different stores with descriptions that make it sound like they’ve never stepped foot into a mercantile Starbucks.  So to highlight a few differences between these two stores and a Starbucks:

What’s different about the two mercantile non-branded Starbucks?

  • There is no green classic Starbucks logo.  However both stores have the words “inspired by Starbucks” somewhere on or about the entrance.
  • In the mercantile Starbucks there is no “Venti” size – You can order 8 ounce, 12 ounce, or 16 ounce beverages.
  • These stores use a manual espresso machine. Roy Street Coffee uses a Synesso espresso maker.
  • There is no whole bean wall of beans in flavorlock packaging. Beans come fresh from the Kent roasting plant and are scooped out on a bin, sold in one-fourth of a pound increments. Generally, beans have been roasted within the previous 2 weeks of being sold at the streetlevel stores.
  • The stores occasionally receive small quantities of rare international Starbucks whole bean coffee.
  • At 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea there are no blenders, so there are no Frappuccinos or any other blender beverage.
  • At Roy Street Coffee there are blenders, but Vivannos are not on the menu.
  • Pastries are locally sourced from the Essential Baking Company, and thus have nothing in common with Starbucks pastries.
  • There are no drip brewers: Coffee is either offered as  Clover, a Pour-Over, or in a French press.
  • At 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, a customer can also order coffee brewed in a Chemex coffee maker.
  • There appears to be no barista dress code.
  • The selection of syrups is very limited (no Pumpkin Spice or other typical Starbucks syrups) and syrups are Monin brand syrup.
  • Simple syrup from Monin is available at the condiment area.  Also Agave syrup in on the condiment counter.
  • Tea selection is only full-leaf Tazo tea.
  • Coffee or tea cuppings are done daily.
  • Milk is strictly steamed per beverage and there is never a pitcher of milk to make multiple espresso beverages.  There are no thermometers.
  • Whole milk is the default milk.
  • The mocha syrup is ganache from Essential Baking Company.
  • Both serve hot tomato soup from Tom Douglas restaurants.
  • Beer and wine are available for purchase.
  • Roy Street Coffee offers Dry Soda.
  • Both serve local foods including a Beecher’s cheese plate, and a Salumi meat tray.
  • Merchandise does not have green Starbucks logo, and merchandise is much more tied to the core competency of coffee. One does not find books and CDs.
  • 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea sells little potted coffee plants.
  • Store designs are unique store specific using many re-purposed furnishings.
  • Roy Street Coffee has unisex bathrooms with hand washing station in a common area and not in stalls.
  • Beverages feature latte art when served in for-here ware.
  • Speed of service is generally slower than at a Starbucks branded store.
  • Menu boards are chalk menu boards with changing offerings.
  • Occasionally these stores receive a limited number of coffee beans from subsidiary coffee brands such as Torrefazione or Seattle’s Best Coffee.
  • Both stores feature live local artists/musicians at times.
  • Pike Place Roast is not offered in the whole bean selection (though whole bean selection rotates often.).
  • Neither streetlevel store offers any “pairings” discounts.

So why are all these details important? The devil is in the details.  The stores are working test stores on an extreme level. They hearken back to the time when beans were scooped out bins, and the Starbucks experience really was all about the coffee. Grind, Brew, and Share.  They are the starting point in a process of figuring out what can and cannot be launched on large-scale, what works, what customers like, and probably what’s profitable too!

I have no doubt that if any customer asks the partners at these stores if they work for Starbucks, they’ll say ‘yes’. There is nothing sneaky about the stores. Of course, a customer particularly knowledgeable about Starbucks will recognize within two minutes that it is completely operated as a Starbucks business. Things like well-known Starbucks coffees such as Verona, Christmas Blend, or Gold Coast give away immediately that this is a Starbucks. And 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea has Via Ready Brew for sale!

Circling back to where this blog entry began, the point here was to distinguish these two stores from the “concept” design Starbucks stores. The “concept” stores are Starbucks.  Though they may have beautiful store designs and Clover brewers, they’re truly Starbucks.  They offer the typical Starbucks beverages and food, and baristas wear green aprons, and they proudly display a green Siren in numerous places.

In a prior blog entry, I pointed out that innovative store design is happening all over Starbucks, but a few stores have been opened up as sort of ‘showcase’ store design stores, and so to list them, they are as follows:

All of the above concept stores are Starbucks.  I realize that I said that before, but it bears repeating. Though the above stores often have very unique store designs, their menu offerings are predictable Starbucks: Oatmeal, lattes, Pike Place Roast, Frappuccinos, and so on …

In short, I hope that I have been able to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the two non-branded streetlevel Starbucks.  Of course the most interesting chapter of this story has not yet been written.  It will be interesting to see how these two stores are functioning one year from now and whether they’ve been able to maintain labor intensive things such as daily cuppings, or whether they’ve given in to more classic Starbucks offerings such as more syrups, larger sizes, and more Frappuccinos.

Of course if you’re in Seattle, be sure to visit Roy Street Coffee or 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea!  So what do you think?

[[Edit: How odd – I think the original Reuters blog link that I referenced at the beginning of this story has been taken down!]]

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  • Steve

    Personally I think Starbucks should get out of the booze business and stick to coffee and other related non alcohol related drinks and not attach their name to such establishments whatsoever. What is meant by “inspired by Starbucks” anyhow?

  • Mike Crimmins

    When I read that blog post, I was wondering about the references to the coffee shops in London. I keep pretty close track of coffee news and didn’t think that I missed anything.

    I went back and forth on being a fan of the undercover Starbucks, I felt that they were trying to be a local coffee shop. However, I think the way you worded it, that it gives them a chance to experiment sold me on the idea.

    As far as the blog post being gone now, I’ve noticed a lot of new services pull articles after a certain amount of time. Seems bad for business to me, but probably one of a thousand reasons that newspapers are failing….former newspaper reporter here, nothing again them, just seeing the many ways that they don’t get the web.

  • StarbucksTweets

    Melody, Once again thank you for taking the time to write such a great post…This article does clear up the confusion surrounding the street level stores vs the concept stores.
    But I do have a question. Who are the “street level stores” owned by? Do we know? I think I have read here and there that they are privately held and not a part of Starbucks LLC. I really think that if they are privately held then there is a story behind the story…but that’s for another time.

  • Scooter McGoo

    I know that working for the company I carry a different perspective and being me I question everything so first off thanks for the details that matter. I know U will prolly disagree with me but everything U wrote still in my mind shows a company trying to run away from it’s own over doneness. I can almost hear Howard in the Exec meeting saying that we need to come up with a way to stealth that we are a SBUX and go back to what we had as a mission in the beginning. A coffee shop that focuses on the product, not music, books, barista bears, toys , games, every freaking tumbler known to man or let’s talk about the plastic VIA pouch, OMG it’s all clearly about getting into bed with anyone that will make us money, not about the importance of coffee. The fact that they use a different brand of syrups speaks volumes to the “let’s try not to show ppl that we are SBUX, along with the fact that PIKE PLACE ROAST is not served when Howard himself stated that, ” In my opinion this is the best cup of coffee in the world”. It further adds to my belief that because these are not part of the SBUX LLC then it’s his way of positioning himself for the day the BUCK stops being something everyone wants because U can walk 40ft in some locations to get to the next store. Thses stores are the new little special shops that he can keep when the corp goes to …? If EVERYONE drives a black Cadillac SUV then they aren’t really that special anymore. Maybe that’s why Peet’s has remained smaller but their stock seems to be doing way better as well. All this is just my view but I have been known to be right from time to time. Enjoyed Ur posts, keep them coming. Who knows I might just pop up to Seattle to check out one of Ur spots soon, never know.

  • AmazonV

    Thanks so much for making that clear, i was a little fuzzy on how many different things they were trying to do.

    I still hope to make it out to seattle at some point and try a clover!

  • JP

    Way to set the record straight, Melody! I still need to visit both the stores.

  • camspi

    How do they serve their whole leave teas? Do they scoop it out of a container, weigh it, and steep it in a kettle?
    I ask because some time after Christmas Starbucks will be transitioning into full leaf teas, and I wanted to see if there was a difference in the way we’ll be brewing the teas.

    When you go to 15th or Roy, which brew methods seems most popular?

    And also, are there other Starbucks close (within a couple mile) these street level stores?

    :) Thanks for bloggin’!

  • Melody

    Hi Cam & StarbucksTweets!

    (1) Are there other Starbucks around: Yes. Roy Street is situated very close to an old Starbucks that has been on Broadway in Seattle since the very early 1990s. I worry that Roy Street will cannibalize sales from it, but don’t know. It’s a block away.

    15th Avenue is a bit more isolated, and there is only a licensed store within a short walk (in a grocery store I think), of course if you’re traveling by car, you’ll have a million close by Starbucks to chose from.

    (2) The full-leaf teas are stored in tins. You can kind of see the silver tins in my twitter profile background. It is scooped out, weighed, and brewed in pretty porcelain tea brewers. Actually it looks pretty labor intensive. Even if you want iced-tea, you have to wait for it to brew, and then poured over ice. If served hot, you get a beautiful porcelain tea cup and brewer at your table.

    By the way, I have a short tea related blog coming up soon, though it won’t really answer your questions.

    At StarbucksTweets:
    (3) Good question! At one time I was looking at the WA State corporations website and I figured out that there is some separate legal entity associated with these businesses. I saw the liquor license when it was posted and saw a coffee name that wasn’t Starbucks. I looked it up, and saw Arthur Rubinfield’s name associated with it (and of course recognize the address 2401 Utah Ave. S.), and realized that there is some separate legal entity that likely (I would guess) has an ownership interest in the 2 street level stores.

    But jeezers it sure makes me with I’d paid attention in Corporation class in law school. The bottom line is that it still is a Starbucks …

    As far as I am concerned, it’s a Starbucks.

    (4) Most popular brew methods: Pour Over and Clover. I notice that stores that have a Clover almost never use their French presses. Though, I want to say something about this because it is one part of Starbucks that angers me: Customers often know which brew method they like! I’m some what irked with baristas who try to persuade customers to take an alternate brew method.

    At my Starbucks (my Mon – Fri store close to court, store 101) every afternoon, like clockwork, there is a man who comes and orders Pike Place Roast through the Clover. PPR is ready on the brew! It just goes to show you people know what they like. And recently I was chatting with a barista who told me how he has a regular customer who insists on a French press, though he’s in a Clover store.

    @StarbucksTweets again:
    (5) Pike Place Roast coffee offering – Though I haven’t seen PPR at the 2 street level stores, it wouldn’t surprise me to see it. And I really don’t care, since I can always get MY choice of coffee. But I notice that the 2 stores seem to emphasize single-origin coffees, so maybe it will be a while before it comes through.

  • Brendan206

    Another difference I have noticed is that 15th/Roy do not accept Starbucks card. I went to 15th Ave Coffee & Tea on opening day and asked the gentleman at the register about it (not to be rude, just curious) and he told me they accepted cash or credit card.

    @StarbucksTweets, a whois search shows that the web domain is owned by Starbucks Corporation, 2401 Utah Ave S. #800, Seattle. A couple months ago, Capitol Hill Times and other sources reported that a “Coffee House Holdings, Inc.” had applied for a liquor license for an establishment at 700 Broadway Ave E, the address of Roy Street Coffee & Tea; and 328 15th Ave E, the location of 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea. Since Starbucks never served alcohol before, maybe they created a separate corporation in order to apply for the licenses. I’m not sure.

    As usual, Melody, great job with the blog! :)

  • elly

    for brendan: the 15th ave store *does* take starbucks cards now. as for roy st, i’m not sure if they’re set up yet or if they will be. my guess is, if you ask for it, they will get it implemented.

  • LatteRose

    Good article. One question – are the cuppings well-attended on a daily basis? The few that I’ve been to had quite a few people interested. Would like to see that happen in other Starbucks.
    Looking forward to the tea posting!

  • Karl Dahlquist

    But have you found any “hidden mermaids” like you would find “hidden Mickeys” in the Magic Kingdom?

    I think that would be a hoot…references to Moby Dick, or other Starbucks terms from the past.

  • Geoff

    Nice write-up. I’m very glad to hear about fresh beans and cuppings.

    Tiny nitpick: Those machines are usually called semi-automatic, not manual. Most of the time when people refer to manual espresso machines, they mean the ones that don’t have mechanical pumps and require the barista to produce the pressure for espresso using a lever. (Like this one: )

  • Melody

    I appreciate those kind of nitpicks! Thank you – I didn’t know that.

  • Steve

    Can anyone please tell me what “inspired by Starbucks” means and why Starbucks would want to have their name connected in any way with a place that sells booze? I’m listening.

  • Winter

    Dang, I thought I was detail-oriented!

  • PS House

    Awesome thanks for the explaner. Love these showcase stores. Innovation in store layout and getting folks to stay in the stores longer will do a lot to improve the sbux bottom line. While a national rollout for a more independent coffee house style may not be ideal simply getting more folks with for here cups rather than paper ones that encourage leaving complemented by great store layouts will be huge for the communities where sbuxes are located.

  • Kieley

    These non-branded stores sound so much better than typical stores! I personally enjoy a beverage than is made on a manual espresso machine with Monin syrups. Starbucks is good because it is pretty consistent and has locations all over the world. For me, one of the huge things that makes or breaks my coffee shop experience is the personal care that is taken in making my drink AND the environment. At my local starbucks, I often feel like I am just at a fast coffee place.

  • hayley

    Re-read this post for a second time…sounds heavenly there!!!

  • Dan

    I’m fairly jealous that this exists! I wish we had one out in my New York area…. As a barista I take very great pride in trying to make the best drink I can with what Starbucks has to give me. I feel a little sad that so many stores out there just focus on the bare essentials, there’s so much more out there than the defaults!

  • Melody

    Hi Dan! I love my two mercantile stores, especially 15th Ave Coffee. At one time there was talk to expand a few more of these but I haven’t heard any such gossip in a long while. I suspect that they work better has two small scale experiments. If you get to Seattle, a coffee cupping at 15th Avenue Coffee is a must-do. Back when the store was new, the cuppings were often led by Major Cohen who exudes coffee knowledge. That was wonderful. Lately he’s been 2 busy to do the cuppings. :-(

  • Lucy

    @ Steve: I wonder what it is about the selling of booze that upsets you so much. Is it equally upsetting that a number of other establishments on the very same blocks as Starbucks also sell booze? Is it the booze itself that upsets you? Seems you have a larger issue than just what Starbucks is selling.

  • Brad Kovach

    You listed the brand of the Roy Street espresso machine.

    The 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea store uses a custom-built La Marzocco. You should try and get some pictures of the 15th Ave Marzocco. The fluorescent lighting underneath the portafilter heads is quite spectacular.

    As an aside, the Pike Place Market store has a La Marzocco machine, too.

  • Melody

    @BradKovach – Yep, the store at 1912 Pike Place has a La Marzocco – In fact, I happened to catch the backside of it in the photo that goes with the “Collecting Bearista Bears” blog post I did.

    I’ve been thinking for a long while that I need to do a completely updated “There are two streetlevel Starbucks stores” blog post: It’s been 4 months since I wrote that last one!! I have heard rumor over and over that 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea is going to get some soft/comfy seating. You’re right I didn’t get some photos of the espresso machines that would have been great. In the meantime, 15th Ave Coffee has added a blender! They now have Frappuccinos on the menu! Roy Street added a panini grill that makes the most wonderful paninis in the world (these are not standard Starbucks fare).

    I definitely think that it is time for an update of this blog entry: When I find the time. I have ideas for blog posts, but this blog sucks all my time out of me. I feel like I have a part-time job in addition to working full-time.

    But yeah, there is a lot of opportunity for some updated photos, maybe showing off these great stores in the summer sunshine!

  • Brad Kovach

    15th Ave Coffee got a blender!? says nothing about it!

    Mel, I love your website! It’s totally worth the time (blogs are rewarding and social). Email or tweet me sometime. I have a great idea for a fan wiki.

    I have this urge to move to Seattle. I liked being near the mothership.

  • elly

    yep, 15th got a blender, and might i say their soy caramel frappuccino is pretty darned tasty :)

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