Starbucks to give Olive Way Gaybucks $552,000 overhaul in latest concept experiment

Capitol Hill continues to be a laboratory for a corporation’s global ambitions. Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks has filed for a construction permit to radically remake their Olive Way location into a new concept “coffee theater.” The description of the $552,000 project in the June 7 permit application filed with the City of Seattle for the overhaul of the store known for its all-day and late night mix of students and locals is understated: Construct additions and alterations to existing commercial building, per plan.

The permit has not yet been approved.

In a media release dated June 25 (from the future! or the East Coast), Starbucks describes the overhaul as a green, locally inspired project:

Olive Way Renovation

Starbucks Store Design Journey Continues with Locally Inspired Olive Way Renovation


Starbucks is renovating our location at 1600 East Olive Way in Seattle, a high-profile store in the vibrant Capitol Hill neighborhood. When the store re-opens later this fall, customers will experience a stunning new exterior and interior LEED®-registered to help reduce the stores environmental impact. We will also source reclaimed and local materials as well as work from local artists. The enhanced interior will focus on the customer coffee experience by bringing them closer to the art of Starbucks handcrafted beverages. As part of this enhanced coffee experience, we will also offer new premium foods as well as wine and beer. 

We’re always working to enhance the Starbucks Experience, and innovation — from our beverages and food to the atmosphere and design of our stores and our interaction with customers — is a way of life for us. We have successfully tested new store designs as well as an enhanced menu in some of our stores within the last year. We are now applying what we’ve learned to create a new way for customers to experience their neighborhood Starbucks where it makes sense while offering a late afternoon and evening destination.

But the Associated Press has the details via the Seattle Times:

With muted, earthy colors, an indoor-outdoor fireplace, cushy chairs, and a menu with wine from the Pacific Northwest’s vineyards and beer from local craft brewers, this 2,500-square-foot shop in the Capital [motherfucking sic] Hill neighborhood will reopen in the fall with espresso machines in the middle.

“It’s going to feel very different,” said Kris Engskov, Starbucks’ regional vice president.

The machines at Olive Way will be part of what executives call a coffee theater. Counters will be narrower – a slim as a foot in some places – to bring customers closer to baristas; the machines will brew one cup at a time to extract deeper flavor from beans.

The store will be the chain’s only location that sells beer and wine in the U.S., though another Seattle test cafe that doesn’t carry the Starbucks brand began selling alcohol last year. The menu at Olive Way will be bigger, full of savory foods that pair with coffee, wine and beer. And customers will be able to customize the offerings, some of which will be freshly made.

Beyond the point that the AP reporter Starbucks picked to spill the beans to is so in the know on our local business happenings that she can’t spell Capitol Hill, it sounds like Olive Way is the next in the series of Capitol Hill Fauxbucks — brilliantly designed, extremely comfortable, serving delicious coffee and leaving many customers with the uneasy feeling that they’ve just done something extremely wrong.

The $552 grand overhaul of the Olive Way location will be significant. The permit lists local architecture firm Graham Baba as a contact. The firm was not listed in permits for construction on the 15th Ave Starbucks concept overhaul or the work done at Roy Street Coffee and Tea. Those projects were listed at just over $100,000 and $300,000 construction jobs, respectively, according to city permit records.

The Olive Way store was thought by some coffee and retail experts to be a likely candidate for a redesign when word of the Starbucks Street Level Coffee projects first started percolating. It’s perhaps the most vibrant Starbucks outlet you’ll find and is one of the rare stores open late. Starbucks opened the location back around the turn of the century (yes, that one, 10 years ago) in what had formerly been a Boston Market chain restaurant.

CHS had heard rumors that lot was being sized up for yet another mixed-use development but this move, if there was anything to the buzz, likely puts off any chance of that happening. Meanwhile, across John street, Seattle Parks work crews are constructing a new green space and p-patch slated to be open in the fall. The park will also have some tables and, for you skaters, a skateboard feature known as a skate dot. A community group has been working with the city to develop a plan to “pedestrianize” John Street and create some sort of plaza between the Olive Way Starbucks and the new park.

The park, by the way, still doesn’t have an official name after the Perugia backlash. Now that the coffee giant is increasing its investment in the area, maybe they’d like to pony up some cash for the pedestrian project and welcome everybody to Starbucks Park.

UPDATE: Seattle Times’ Friday morning update paints the move as the beginning of the transformation of Starbucks shops to incorporate the lessons learned by the company at their 15th Ave and Roy Street locations:

Starbucks is removing the stealth factor from an innovative store program it launched last year with two cafes on Capitol Hill that do not carry its name.

The chain has learned a lot from 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea and Roy Street Coffee & Tea, which will keep their current names, said Starbucks spokeswoman Stacey Krum.

But the next store that opens with a unique design and occasional live entertainment will be called Starbucks. It also will be the first Starbucks-branded store to offer beer and wine.

More interesting, the Times reports on some of the logistical details of the overhaul.

The Starbucks store at 1600 E. Olive Way on Capitol Hill is expected to close in July for a two-month remodel that includes new deck seating, an indoor-outdoor fireplace and a 360-degree coffee and wine bar with narrow countertops to let baristas interact more closely with customers.

Starbucks will continue serving coffee from a van on the property during the remodel.

Update x2: We have confirmed the dollar values listed in this article as the base estimates provided by Starbucks to the City of Seattle. We’re told by DPD that the values include estimates of significant work and materials but not finishings like cabinets or equipment so the total cost of the overhauls is higher.

Update x3: About three hours ago, we received an e-mail reply from Starbucks corporate PR inviting us to send over a few questions. We asked about the timing of this announcement in relation to Pride and about the corporation’s plans related to the Summit and John park. So far, no response.

Thanks to tipster Robin for the note.

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25 thoughts on “Starbucks to give Olive Way Gaybucks $552,000 overhaul in latest concept experiment

  1. Red Robin before Boston Market – good food, cheap for the day. Nice, but too small as the chain grew and went to malls.

    Delighted to see the investment, jobs, confidence in the Hill … and still just so so coffee.

    MFing, bad spellers. A little tense there … but cute.

  2. Bash Starbucks for being fauxbucks and the ask them for money in the same article. That ought to work. Even with all of the bashing their new stores seem to be doing fine.

  3. i can’t wait until starbucks corporatizes all aspects of small business feel. certainly making 1 foot wide counters creates an intimacy that a small business coffeeshop has. it’s great to see corporate america find more efficient ways to associate emotion with a drug like caffeine. but if they really want to make it work, i suggest they find a way to combine a gay sex club with a coffeeshop. this should reduce the crystal meth use and replace it with coffee. i can’t wait for starbucks branded gloryholes. and leed certified slings.

  4. Of course Starbucks started as a small business and became successful which makes people like you bitter and angry. They aren’t necessarily copying something they did when they were smaller.

  5. Of course Starbucks started as a small business and became successful a giant, international, small business destroying corporate near monopoly which makes people like you bitter and angry. They aren’t necessarily copying something they did when they were smaller.


  6. Good heavens, I am pleasured and thankful to hear that Starbucks has provided a cushier environment for me and my homeless breathren to get drunk in. Sirs, we will start saving up our spare change and selling our three-legged pets NOW!

  7. Tournant,

    I didn’t need your help. In the future, maybe you can come up with something on your own to say. I totally understand your anger though. The company is successful and you resent that. No small business should ever get so successful that they expand.

    Most of the independent coffee shops have only benefitted from Starbucks success.

  8. Do you really think Starbucks puts independent coffeeshops out of business? I would suggest you look at the incredible density of coffeeshops on Capitol Hill. Look at Joe Bar and tell me they have lost any business since Roy St opened. There is plenty of latent demand out there and I have never seen a case where a Starbucks pushed out a local coffeeshop. If they were opening right next door to a local and then dropped prices way down until the local shut down, that would be predatory, but I’ve never heard of Starbucks doing that. I’m no fan of Starbucks, but let’s get our history right. They popularized espresso drinks and probably have done more to help independent coffeeshops than to harm them.

  9. I was actually just saying the other day to some friends that they should re-do this location along the lines of Roy St and 15th. I prefer places like Stumptown, Bauhaus, and Joe Bar, but I think there is room for independents, local chains, and national chains alike in this coffee-crazy neighborhood. If we have to have Starbucks (and I think we do), I would rather they all looked more like the Roy St location and had really good coffee. Most Starbucks coffee is bland and boring, but if you have tried their coffees at Roy St made with the Clover machine, it makes a world of difference. I also think the competition is a good thing. Right now Stumptown wins hands down on brewed coffee because they use French Press, but the Starbucks Clover gives them healthy competition. I’m hoping that will put the pressure on local chains like Stumptown and Victrola to develop their own machines to compete with the Clover.

  10. I am OUTRAGED that a local food & beverage establishment would even consider remodeling their shop to be more comfortable or appealing to customers in any way.

  11. Take a look at your friends, neighbors, and associates. Chances are that you know someone that works for starbucks. My point? The company employs a lot of people in Seattle, and offers them seemingly legit health and retirement benefits. I never understand all the hate for a large local employer that ISN’T begging for gov’t money, spilling oil, or other shenanigans.

    And, I do not work for the bux.

  12. They are not going far enough by just adding beer, wine, and a deck! They need 2 or 3 Hot Tubs! Go-Go dancers in nothing but aprons! Maybe even dig up the parking lot for a dog/skateboard park! The money would roll in! Customers would never leave!

  13. Zef Wagner,

    Yes shall we review the History, quote:

    SEATTLE A U.S. District Court judge here reportedly cleared the way on Wednesday for a trial to determine if Starbucks Corp. illegally blocked a small-scale coffeehouse operator from opening stores in the area.

    Penny Stafford last year sued the 15,000-unit Seattle-based coffee giant, saying Starbucks violated antitrust regulations by blocking her from opening competing stores in Seattle and Bellevue, Wash., where she already operates a coffeehouse. Stafford contends that Starbucks’ saturation strategy is designed to prevent rival concepts like hers from opening nearby.

  14. Sir,

    Unfortunately you do not work at Starbucks.

    I am surprised they actually hire local people, when they outsource A LOT of work to foreign countries.

    You would think supporting the US economy or their local hometown economy would help by not outsourcing oversees.

  15. Please refer to a Detroit News column dated Fri. Oct.22,2010

    Starbucks will loose a lot of customers if the beer and wine thing
    happens. We have lots of good coffee alternaties in Detroit including
    MACDONALDS-we’ve seen the sales figures. Do yourself and us a favor and stay away from Detroit.