CHS-V interviews Roy St Coffee & Tea’s Jacob Webber

If my interview with Roy Street Coffee and Tea manager Jacob Webber taught me anything, it’s that despite being a much better coffee shop than your typical Starbucks, Roy Street Coffee and Tea is still a Starbucks.

Jacob describes the store as his “pipe dream,” and seemed really excited about all the new features they’re trying out in the store, like their new Synesso espresso machine, and a pull down movie screen to host film showings for local filmmakers.  He said a lot of positive things and really seemed committed to making the concept work.  

On the other hand, Jacob said he didn’t know much about Capitol Hill, he didn’t have much to say about the well established coffee scene on the Hill, beyond “they make great coffee”, and he didn’t offer direct responses to any of the criticism they’ve been getting from many in the community — namely that it’s disingenuous to not display the Starbucks name, and the clipboard observers that were spotted in neighboring business. 

This seeming lack of connection to the neighborhood isn’t a deal breaker for me.  As I’m sure people will point out in the comments, it’s just coffee after all.  But the vague and corporate sounding responses served as a reminder that despite the hype, and the much-improved ambiance, coffee and food, this is really just another Starbucks… nothing to get too excited about, but also nothing really worth protesting. It is a new piece of Capitol Hill, though, so check out the interview and hear for yourself what Jacob had to say about Roy St Coffee.

Jacob introduces the new store, and explains why they chose to locate on Capitol Hill


I asked Jacob what was missing in Capitol Hill coffee scene that Roy St C&T can deliver.  And he shares his impressions of the neighborhood.

Jacob responds to criticism that they are being disingenuous by not using the Starbucks name.

Jacob responds (kind of) to criticism of Starbucks “observers” that were spotted at nearby local businesses, taking notes before the opening of the 15th Ave Store

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10 thoughts on “CHS-V interviews Roy St Coffee & Tea’s Jacob Webber

  1. I don’t think it’s disingenuous (pls check the spelling on your video caption) for Roy St Coffee & Tea not to use the Starbucks name because the store clearly *isn’t a Starbucks*. The Starbucks corporate company may have launched the coffee shop, but that doesn’t mean the new location adheres to all of the trappings and definitions of the now infamous Starbucks brand. Many corporations have several brands that they create and/or manage, and this really isn’t any different. Maybe they just want to try something new and different.

    Which leads me to my second point: the clipboard visitors are not that big of a deal. If I wanted to open a new coffee shop on the hill the first thing I’d do is *check out my competitors* to see what worked, what I liked, what I didn’t, and whether my ideas were already being implemented. No reason to spend $$$ investing and building a business that doesn’t have a chance from a competitve standpoint. I concede, however, that the implementation of their visits was easy to perceive as a little brass and unwelcoming.

    Lastly, this article makes a pretty big presumption that everyone knows of and accepts the “well-established coffee scene on the Hill” and further pushes an anti-corporate, anti-outsiders agenda. I’m new to the Hill and love it, and would like to think that I could become a part of the community just like anyone else. You may be inadvertently pushing perfectly lovely, quality people and ideas out of the Hill in an attempt to preserve your own ties to it, which is certainly understandable – but may not be the right way to go.


  2. You make some really good uhura, thank you.

    The one thing I would say though is that this I disagree about this not being a Starbucks. This is not a situation where Starbucks bought a small coffee shop or funded an experimental project of someone else, or is just selling their products through a different venue. This is a targeted marketing strategy formulated in Starbucks corporate offices and brought to fruition very much under their watchful eye. This manager, Jacob, has been a Starbucks employee for 10 years and I imagine that many of the other employees also came from other Starbucks or will be trained with Starbucks training manuals. Sorry, but this very much is a Starbucks.

    If you think this copy catting is bad, you should see the new Microsoft stores. But hey, the first rule of marketing is that if it works, why fight it right?

  3. thanks for your comments uhura.

    re: “this article makes a pretty big presumption that everyone knows of and accepts the “well-established coffee scene on the Hill””

    It wasn’t my intention to knock Jacob for not knowing the coffee scene. I actually felt like he probably had a lot more to say about it than he would say on camera, which is what really reinforced the corporate image for me. He said that he had visited all the neighboring coffee shops, and I’m sure he had personal feelings about which one he liked best, and what he liked and didn’t like about each one. But still, all he’d say on camera was that they all made great coffee. That’s just part of the game when you’re representing a company so I don’t fault him for that, but it just reminded me that this wasn’t a guy speaking for himself, he was speaking for Starbucks.

  4. really? there’s some legal, moral or ethical reason that a company can only have one brand? should Volvo cars be re-branded to Ford? if they don’t are they disingenuous?

    I’m sorry, that doesn’t really make much sense.

    clipboards? that’s market research. everyone does it. maybe doing it obviously is a bit too overt for some folks, but don’t think that anyone doesn’t research the ‘hood they’re moving into.

    copycatting? practically every coffeehouse in the world has the same overall vibe. there are very few coffeehouses that have a truly unique vibe. yes, they all have personal touches, but really?

    why don’t we evaluate these new coffeehouses based on what we actually think of the experience IN the coffeehouse rather than on our preconceptions of Sbux or the opinions of OTHER people?

    i have no doubt that it’s very possible that this coffeehouses will be underwhelming, considering the parent company and the underwhelming nature of Starubucks as coffee houses. but i can’t confirm that until i see it for myself.

  5. The 15th Avenue shop has a more independent coffee house feel than the Vivace shop in the Brix. The Vivace shop has a sterile/corporate feel.

  6. Full disclosure: I have the love/hate with SBUX. Cookiecutter starbucks interior design grates on my creative design sensibilities. (they could hire scenic designers to give each store ‘real’ character, and still brand the coffee itself, in my opinion). I also don’t care for highcalorie, highsugar coffee drinks, it poisons the health of americans, under the guise of coffee, a foodstuff/beverage I have much reverence for. They’re no McD’s, bad-health-wise, but they also aren’t doing anyone any favors with oversized whipped cream, flavored-syrup drinks with chocolate/caramel and heavy cream added. Needless to say, I take mine black.
    That said, I used to go to the real/first Starbucks in the market back in the day, before they were quite so ‘corporatized’. I appreciate them as much as I do the Allegro for introducing better coffee to seattlites. Without these we coulda ended up being suckers for the likes of dunkin donuts or folgers *shiver*, and that’s a sobering thought. Now, with all the options of local roasters they are now 2nd tier coffee at best, but once they were noble, I suppose…

    Should KRAFT foods, especially the kids’ lines, list all the products their parent company made or the hundreds of millions spent lobbying the gov? Should Krupp add labels explaining how they used to ’employ’ jewish slaves in Germany during the holocaust? Should ConAgra advertise that they’ve had multiple tragic safety violations? Should Altria be required to tell investors how many americans their products have killed so far (5 million in 2004 alone, by the way) ? To all these: Perhaps, but there’s no law yet for that. Dishonest? So are the ads saying KRAFT foods are ‘good for kids’ or that planters nuts are a ‘healthy’ snack. Which one is more hurtful to the fabric of society? – SBUX opening stores under flags that don’t say starbucks, or Kraft and OscarMeyer passing off EasyMac and Lunchables as nutritious for kids? The villain of the piece is clear.
    For SBUX’s defense, go to the 300 block of MLK way: that park (Powell Barnett), and the immediate neighborhood, have had a blessing delivered. SBUX paid for it. Decent use for arguably-ill-got profits.
    I think the energy going into lambasting starbucks for breaking (sorta) free of their cookiecutters could be better spent. Wanna fight the bad corps? GREAT: Please please start with Nestle, McD’s, GE or Kraft. Don’t like the dishonest SBUX neo-marketing?
    a) don’t buy in – keep your business at joe bar, vivace etc
    b) welcome to america… you must be new here.

  7. I’m still curious why so many people are rushing to promote and advertise a new corporation’s store. Starbuck’s already has a marketing department. What next? Are CHS Bloggers going to start promoting the new McDonald’s or the new QFC? How is this “community news”? What about the threat to Basic Health in Washington? What about the rising unemployment? School closures? Are none of these things as important as “Breaking News: Starbuck’s opens a coffee shop?”

  8. Business, any business, moving in rather than out on broadway: yes, that is news. Good news for the neighborhood, especially if they can coexist and stay profitable.
    Likewise, Bailey Coy, another business that also spends/spent money on marketing, gets a story here too – about how they are closing.

    YES, I fully expect QFC/kroger and McD’s to learn from starbuck’s very sharp and thorough reverse marketing – opening a store under their own banner would have been ho-hum. Opening as a slightly different deal? Raising questions, instigating a little anger here and there, and drumming up ‘legit’ buzz? Damn fine marketing – hope someone got a bonus. Or did you guys use Passage Events again to get a lil “genius-for-hire”?

    Basic Health, School closures and unemployment, while all experienced here on the hill, are much wider issues than strictly the locale suggested in the website name. I’d prefer to see stories on both. Isn’t there an open door for writers here too?

  9. I actually live in that building. A long time ago (before it was the Brix sales office) I was overjoyed when informed that an Essential Bakery was going into that spot. Apparently that deal fell through, but I’d always hoped something similar would pop up there.

    The Design is interesting and it’ll be a nice place to sit and watch the winter snow if/when it comes. It has a comfier feel than a corporate Starbucks but that’s about it. There’s nothing truly unique there that would keep me from heading to Vivace or Joe Bar (or lamenting for that Essential Bakery). It will be interesting to see what kinds of people settle in as regulars. I’m thinking it will be strictly overflow from Joe Bar and large groups who are awaiting seating at the Harvard Exit.

  10. i don’t the design of Vivace to be “truly unique”. the quality of their coffee is truly unique – but not their design. the interior is pretty bland.