Starbucks uncorks new business model that includes beer, wine

Starbucks signThere's a new buzz at Starbucks and it has nothing to do with caffeine. The Starbucks, Olive Way store in the hip, Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle is the first to offer beer, wine and savory foods in a move that may signal a new direction for the decade ahead. And where Starbucks goes, could Dean and Deluca, Caribou Coffee and Peet's be far behind?

Behold the grande, skinny chard no whip? Cabernecinnos? Bold roasted brewskis?

Turning 40 does something to people, and it looks like the same goes for behemoth, billionaire coffee makers. Nipping and tucking at what has become a venerable, global brand, Starbucks is experimenting with the 2,400 square foot Seattle location in an effort to determine if bar tending baristas will bolster the after-hours crowd.

After 4 p.m., customers will be able to order wine chosen from Pacific Northwest vineyards (including Chateau St. Michele, Barnard Griffin, William Hill and House of Independent) and local craft brews with prices ranging from $7.50 -- $9 for a glass of wine; $22 -- $34 for a bottle; and $4.75 per beer -- only slightly more than a Venti specialty coffee. Appetizer inspired platters ranging from Mediterranean plates to artisan cheese plates (brie, Gouda, cheddar, almonds) and Italian selections (prosciutto, mixed olives whole wheat crackers) are priced from $7.95 to $8.95 and will be brought to your table. The friendly, enthusiastic employee who answered the store phone on re-opening day told WalletPop, "The Snowqualmie Naked (certified organic wine) goes great with our brownie."

The barista also reported, "it's been the busiest day in the store's history." Still, the employee told WalletPop, "[the store] can be full, but it doesn't feel crowded." She assured me it was still possible to find a quiet place to sit. For larger parties, meeting rooms are available for reservation.

The menu isn't the only thing getting a makeover. Renovated to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, the changing face of Starbucks is designed to incorporate the essence of the local neighborhood as well as the company's roots.

Adhering to the Starbucks Shared Planet program, an effort dedicated to ethical sourcing and environmental stewardship, the new store boasts a coffee bar hewn from salvaged, urban wood and a main serving counter that incorporates reclaimed and recycled materials. Interior columns and the existing polished cement floor were maintained from the previous structure. The Starbucks' sign outside mimics the age-worn look of the original one In Pike's Place Market -- a graphic we may be seeing more of on our own local stores.

Inside, decor includes a cleverly unmatched mix of comfortable furniture, exposed steel beams, brick walls, a burlap coffee bag tapestry hanging on a wall, used chairs from the University of Washington campus, and a "community table" designed by a local artisan out of reclaimed flooring from a nearby high school. Couches flank an indoor-outdoor fireplace. It's a look designed to promote lingering.

"This is in response to our customers telling us that they want more options for relaxing in our stores in the afternoon and evenings and reflects what we've learned from our "learning lab" stores (also in Seattle)," read a statement from Starbucks, "We hope to continue to learn from our experience at Olive Way and then consider bringing this concept to select stores in neighborhoods where it is relevant."

It's enough to make the competition jittery -- or maybe start drinking.

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