Starbucks: Along I5 in California. (Spiced Root Beer is coming to an end)
I recently took a road trip and stopped at a variety of Starbucks stores along the Interstate 5 in California. It made my trip pretty slow going, but I was determined to experience a variety of stores.
Lebec, California Starbucks (store 6689) : 5844 Dennis McCarthy Drive, Lebec. This tiny town supports one of the busiest stores in the country. As you’re driving north along I-5, you drive through the “Angeles National Forest” – I put this in quotes because it’s not a forest with trees. It’s a high elevation desert. You climb to an elevation of about 4,100 feet in a heat and dessert. Invariably, you’ll always see at least one car along side the road, overheated. I’ve never been to this Starbucks when it’s not hot. On my visit on the afternoon of May 29th, my phone told me it was 95 degrees out. If you’ve been driving from the south, into Los Angeles County, you’ve also been driving for miles through the desert. By the time you see the sign that says Starbucks, it looks like an oasis. It could be a mirage. Because of the way that Highway 99 (connecting Bakersfield into Los Angeles County) connects with I-5, the store get all the travelers making road trips whether from Seattle to Orange County along I-5 or Bakersfield into Los Angeles.
I arrived and immediately noticed the District Manager. Of course, I didn’t know the District Manager before this visit, but it hit me like a ton of bricks: “That must be the DM.” You never see very nicely dressed woman, with no green apron, nothing resembling Starbucks standard dress code, with gloves on rearranging the pastry case. That’s a dead giveaway. I had a very nice visit. It was nice to meet Stephanie the DM. I introduced myself.
As I mentioned, this store is a desert oasis. Look for the big sign that says “Tejon Ranch.”
Starbucks in Buttonwillow, California. I really didn’t need to stop again at Starbucks but I was determined to visit a large number of stores along I-5. I arrived late afternoon and discovered a store packed with teenagers. It occurred to me, if you live in Buttonwillow, California, Starbucks might be the town hot spot on a Friday night. It was super loud and I saw a very long line of cups. I got to the register and Jasmine took my order. I ordered yet another Starbucks Spiced Root Beer. She asked for my name on the cup. “Melody.” “What was that?” “My name is Melody!” It was somehow very noisy in the store. I have to assume she was genuinely having some difficulty hearing me. It took about four times of me saying my name. I think the fourth time I said, “Melody,” there was a touch of impatience in my voice. Jasmine said “Melody” back to me, said she got it, and thanked me. I paid and waited.
When I walked away from the register, I was struck at how completely calm and unflustered Jasmine had been. Not a hint of impatience and had maintained a friendly smile. I walked away thinking, ‘that young lady has the right demeanor for Starbucks.’
Sorry I didn’t take any photos in Buttonwillow.
Saturday, May 30th.
On Saturday May 30th, I made it to the Manteca, California Starbucks on Daniels Street. That was my first stop of the morning. Everything was fine. I had a lot of driving ahead of me and I was kind of in a rush, yet I stayed longer than I should. I noticed that the store had a nice quality (unfaded) window cling of “Employment Opportunity” featuring Mikey, who is the store manager at Pike and Broadway in Seattle. I took a moment to “introduce” the covering shift supervisor to Mikey. He had a moment where he the expression on his face was like, ‘Why is this customer dragging me outside and pointing at my window clings?’ All was well though. Sorry that I don’t recall the shift supervisor’s name, but he was friendly and seemed to enjoy the brief introduction.
I like that no matter where I go, partners I know in real life (window clings with Mikey and Meryl – the blonde partner cling). welcome me in to the stores. As I mentioned, all was well, and I was on my way northbound on Interstate 5.
Sacramento, California – Alhambra and N Starbucks:
Eventually, I made my way to the Alhambra and N Street Starbucks in Sacramento. This isn’t really right off of I-5 but I’ve been to this store before and had good experiences. On top of that, a shift supervisor (Shawn R.) is very active on social media and so I’d hoped for the chance to meet him. He’s on Facebook and Instagram, and his passion for Starbucks comes through. Unfortunately, I missed Shawn. I dropped off a bag of Starbucks Bali Vintage Klasik, leaving it with the store manager, Laura.
Once again, it was a great experience. Everyone was friendly and my drink was great. Since this is a Reserve- Clover Starbucks, I ordered an iced Reserve coffee (Colombia).
This store has a fun store design, considering there is a coffee mug atop the roof of the store!
The one thing about this store is that the interior design is nice, but not helpful for the flow of customers. The overwhelming majority of Starbucks stores are designed so that customers should naturally line up along the pastry case to get to the register. The reason for that is simple: Starbucks hopes that you might be tempted by something in the pastry case as you wait in the line. Some stores have tall bars to help the line formation, but in this Sacramento store, there is a wide open space to the front of the register. What I observed – even in a short visit – this store almost never forms a line along the pastry case. I mentioned it to the store manager who indicated that their store is due for a refresh soon. She too noticed that their line almost never forms along the pastry case. It might not seem like it, but most (there are a few isolated exceptions not designed this way – such as the East Olive Way Starbucks in Seattle) but the store flow will work better if customers queue up along the pastry case.
By the time I got to Red Bluff, I was tired of driving to Starbucks stores, but I decided to go to a few more. When I walked in, one of the first things I noticed was the customer-facing “Partner Appreciation Board.” Not something you see everyday! I think it’s a great way to get positive feedback back to the store partners. I went to the register and ordered a flat white. It came out something like this: “I’d like a short vanilla Flat White with the milk steamed to 145 degrees and lovely latte art.” Of course, I wasn’t really expecting latte art. I’ve said that and plenty of times gotten a dollop of foam that is supposed to look like a dot.
I waited for my drink. When it came up, I took off the lid and looked at it. I always do that. It would have to look like big dishwater-style bubbles in the foam before I’d say anything, if even then if I would. Lo and behold, I saw latte art. And then I heard a barista say to me, “It’s supposed to be a tree.” It did look kind of like a tree. It wasn’t brilliant latte art, but it was latte art atop my drink. The barista (her name was Morgan) then added, “I tried my best.”
I love you Morgan! That’s all we can ask of each other in life. Try our best. This was, in fact, one of the best drinks on my whole trip. The milk tasted great and really tasted like the right temperature. Everything about it was perfect. It was overall one of the best experiences on the whole trip too.
Of course I left a card for her on their “Partner Appreciation” board.
As a random aside, I left a trail of StarbucksMelody cards in stores all over California, mostly scotch-taped to various small items I’d purchased at the Starbucks Coffee Gear Store. I had no problem hiding various Starbucks pencils and/or keychains with StarbucksMelody cards attached – but in this store, I was greeted and as I went to hide a StarbucksMelody card, a barista asked me if I needed help finding anything!
There were two other stores that I didn’t do a long write up on. There was one store which wasn’t a very good experience – the baristas don’t shake teas.
Another store I went to had friendly partners who rocked Frappuccinos. As I sat in the store, I heard Frappuccino after Frappuccino being called out. They were a little low on knowledge though. The store that rocked Frappuccinos, I had this experience at the register: Barista Johnny noticed my card. “I haven’t seen this card before.” Me: “It’s from the Roastery in Seattle. You know the big Roastery that’s been all over the news.” Barista Johnny said: “I don’t watch the news.” Me: “Well, Howard has been talking about it a lot.” Barista: “Who? Howard Stern?” Despite that the Frappuccino-rocking store seemed low on being knowledgeable, I suspect they nonetheless have happy customers. I saw three very young women leave the store, all in a group, all carrying Venti Frappuccinos, and all three beaming and I heard one say, “These are the best Frappuccinos ever.” It’s a lesson for me that every piece of the Starbucks equation counts.
In other news:
As I Instagramed a photo of my Spiced Root Beer, I heard from a variety of people that Starbucks Spice Root Beer is slated to be discontinued soon. I’ve been a fan of it for a long time. If you like it too, better get to Starbucks soon before it’s gone!
Melody, I was following your trip in the virtual sense, when you posted your pictures of the Laval store. I haven’t driven to LA from Fresno since I got married 5 years ago, so I love it when you visit that store, I stopped there every time I took a work trip south for 4 years.
So I was looking at the store locator site to get some info, when I noticed that there is another store listed on the other side of the freeway (on the truck stop side). From the amenities, it looks like a company operated store, I’ve never seen a licensed drive thru. Just wondering if you knew anything about the store, or how long it’s been open?
Rest up after all that driving!!
@Hayley – Thank you!
@Chris W – That Lebec “Tejon” stopping point has grown and turned into a crazy place. I’ve been into the In-N-Out there and seen no seating and a line to the door. I’m not aware of a second Starbucks right there on the truck stop side but I will definitely look into that! Actually, I’m amazed that there’s no a Starbucks at almost every one of the bigger stops along I-5 – throughout California. As I was almost out of California, I realized that Yreka now has a Starbucks! That has to be newish. I just could stop at all but wanted to get to that one too.
So this is the one that I mentioned here:
I see you must be talking about this one:
I have got to check that one out soon!
@Melody I tried to pull up a Google Maps Street View of the new Starbucks, but it just shows fields in every direction 🙂 When I looked up the address, I also found a ‘Pieology’ restaurant at the same address, so I’m assuming that it’s a strip building with 3-4 tenants.
However, what you said about the West Side development is true, it is extremely crowded because of all the services offered: food, gas, even Tesla Supercharging. The East Side used to just be the Truck Stop, with a few licensed restaurants (maybe a Burger King and Subway), but with the amount of traffic, a traditionally owned operation is going to get enough business (as long as there are other services driving traffic there).
I used to stop on my way to Southern California every time I was driving, because the original Starbucks was exactly 140 miles / 2 hours from my house. I could use the restroom, reload with coffee, and hit the Grapevine.
Love your little bit about Alhambra and N as well, that is the closest Clover store to my parents house, I will usually make 1 stop there per visit to their house in Davis.
I too felt like I was traveling with you to each of these stores. I think I would so enjoy after driving for so long to come upon a starbucks. I love the way they all look so different. The stores around here are so alike it can be boring at times. Often on the highways around here to get to a starbucks you have to go off the road.
@Purple1 – Glad you enjoyed the road trip! I think the physical store design was a lot of the same in many California stores – but the personality of each store was pretty different one store to the next.
Which Red Bluff store did you visit? Having been to all three (there are three now), each is distinctly different.
@Gretchen – This StarbucksMelody article is more than a year old. Root Beer is gone from Starbucks. Things come and go quickly from Starbucks.
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Would love for you to come to Tucson and pop in on some stores here! I would love reading your experiences and reactions.