Starbucks Ups 'Experience Retail' Ante With Reserve Roastery
The giant roaster and distribution system inside the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle.
There’s experiential retail—today’s mandate that every store or restaurant must offer an experience, not just food or drink or jogging pants—and then there’s the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle, which I visited after talking with the MOD Pizza folks last week for an upcoming story.
John Dikos, MOD’s VP of partnerships, recommended the year-old, one-of-a-kind store as the “Willy Wonka” of coffee shops. I would call it a cross between a Dickensian boiler room and a hipster’s fantasy, with as a bonus an entire corner section for Middle America who also wants a slice of pie. (Seriously: Go straight and you can sit with the cool kids at one of two giant coffee bars; turn right and join the queue with plump tourists eager to fill their pieholes.)
Starbucks calls it a “one-of-a-kind coffee shrine in our hometown that captures the past, present and future of Starbucks.” There is one store like it now; a second one is planned in New York City next year. Starbucks also has a tasting room in Mexico City.
At one of the bars, I looked at the very long menu and selected from a dizzying array. (Um, do you have any decaf, I asked sheepishly.) The barista quickly offered Decaf Costa Rica, a Starbucks exclusive, and described an extremely long and complicated process that brings out the oiliness of the flavor, or else the underlying earthiness, or else the notes of lemongrass. (I can’t remember, but the resulting cup was delicious, especially when he also recommended a double chocolate cookie as a side dish.)
I asked him to describe the huge roaster behind me, with pipes going every which way, and he launched into a very detailed explanation about how some batches shoot outside for shipping while others go into containers above the main coffee bar for pressing. His explanation was so complicated yet so rote that I had to say it: “You’re making this up, aren’t you?” He just laughed.
“Let’s take the curtain away and really show how coffee is made,” explains Starbucks’ creative design VP Liz Muller in a video. “Like an experience, like a stage, like a show.” It was all that and then some for this first-time visitor, and every other retailer can consider the bar raised.