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Internal memo details Starbucks Broadway plans, Joe Bar responds

Joe Bar

Originally uploaded by Kamala Dolphin-Kingsley

CHS broke the news a few weeks back that Starbucks was set to open yet another ‘neighborhood coffee house’ in the 700 Broadway building.

Now we know what they plan to call the joint. Starbucks passed along this internal memo detailing some of the strategy around the next of their concept shops to hit Capitol Hill. 

Hey Joe Bar, meet your new neighbor Roy Street Coffee & Tea.

Here’s some explanation of the strategy behind the name and more from the Starbucks memo:

We shared details of the e-mail with the owner of the independent coffee house that also makes its home on Roy Street. Joe Bar’s Wylie Bush said the details only make him sad to see what Starbucks has become. “I have to give Starbucks some credit,” Bush said. “They spurred coffee in Seattle to begin with. Now it’s sad. It’s so depressing.”

So far, Bush says, there have been no signs of the infamous note-taking Starbucks employees casing Joe Bar for inspiration for the new shop’s design. “As soon as I start seeing green walls I might get a little more bummed out,” Bush said.

Bush said he hasn’t talked to anybody from Starbucks about the new shop yet and he doesn’t yet have any plans for changing his business. He’s also torn by the situation — it’s bad for his business but good for that area of Broadway not to have an empty retail space. “The last thing I want to see is another coffee shop on Broadway,” Bush said. “At the same time just having that space filled is better.”

Bush said he also worries about his younger clientele having to make decisions based on price and being lured away if Starbucks is able to undercut Joe Bar on the price of a cup of coffee. “People make their choices,” Bush said. “Hopefully the small indies can survive when the big corporations are mimicking us to the point that you can’t tell the difference.”

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46 thoughts on “Internal memo details Starbucks Broadway plans, Joe Bar responds” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. I’m curious as to why Starbucks keeps targeting Capitol Hill for their new coffee shops. Didn’t they JUST debut the new coffee shop up on 15th, and they’re already talking about another one??? It definitely isn’t fair to all of the indie coffee shops that already call Capitol Hill home.

  2. I second Suzi. Why don’t they set up shops in neighborhoods that aren’t already crammed full of great indy coffeeshops? Changing over the existent store on 15th is one thing; setting up right next to Joe Bar (w/ Vivace not far away) seems awfully agressive.

  3. Joe Bar is a great shop. I bet that when Starbucks moves in nearby, especially a destination Starbucks populating a formerly empty space, more foot traffic will be drawn up there and Joe Bar will see some action from that foot traffic. (Similarly, Victrola doesn’t seem to be suffering from 15th Ave Coffeehouse, although I don’t have access to their books so can’t be sure about that.)

    Mind you, if Starbucks ends up with green walls and crepes, I’ll have to boycott.

  4. It’s a coffeehouse…in a neighborhood.

    There’s no need for quotes around it.

    Starbucks has been on the Hill for decades and it hasn’t seemed to hurt indie coffeeshops…in fact, the success of Starbucks LEAD to the whole premium coffee revolution and the creation of all the indie coffee shops that people love. EVERYONE knows that these new rebranded stores are Starbucks in disguise so who the fuck is this hurting?

    Don’t quite get all the hate on Starbucks…A LOCAL company, albeit one that has become a huge, multimillion dollar, international corporation, that employees thousands of people locally and many of them in well-paying corporate jobs. If Starbucks went bankrupt, our local economy would be hard hit and it would be a very bad thing for Seattle. And, if you’re not a fan of their coffee or business practices, then don’t spend your money there. It’s that simple.

    For the record, I don’t work at Starbucks and never have and I seldom buy their products because I seldom buy retail coffee because it’s ridiculously expensive when you can make it at home for an eighth of the price…

  5. While it would be nice if Starbucks would not play games (scouting out competitors, “rebranding”, etc.) Seattle is a coffee-fueled society. I’ve been in Victrola and other indie shops and the place has been packed to overflowing. Especially if I want to just hang out, I want a place that’s not quite so busy, so more coffee shops is a better thing, imo. Of course, I also want a great tasting cup of coffee and while I do go to Starbucks (few, if any, independents in Bellevue where I work), I find the coffee at Victrola, Cafe Vita, etc. to be superior.

  6. I agree that we live in an open market place and Starbucks is free to do whatever they want. Also, I think the targeting of Capitol Hill has to do with the clientele and the demand. There are a lot of coffee shops here because there are a lot of people that drink coffee. Its supply and demand.

    I live just off the North End of Broadway and I am pretty excited to see this space FINALLY fill up. I frequent Joe Bar and have absolutely no intentions of switching to Starbucks. But you can’t deny that there are thousands if not millions of people that only drink Starbucks and I am sure some of them live up in the North End of the Hill. Hopefully this will entice them to come down to Broadway, enjoy a coffee in a reasonably sustainable location, shop at Edgar and Bliss, and then maybe hit dinner at Poppy and Olivar. Sure beats going downtown and shopping at Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Anthropology and then hitting Ruth Chris. Now the real question is how we get these people down here without using their cars…

  7. I really enjoy going to Joe Bar and relaxing with a cup of coffee and a good book. The staff are nice and it’s a great location for people watching especially with Harvard Exit Theater across the street.
    I look forward to my next cup of “Joe”

  8. Agreed, Josh.
    Sigh. If we could just get them all to use their bicyles, I think businesses on Broadway would boom. (and more would be enticed to open) There’s a LOT of people living in our end of Capitol Hill and many with high incomes…not sure why more tasteful independent shops such as Kobo don’t open to serve them and I think you nailed it – because those people like to drive and don’t want to go somehwere where parking is tough. If you stay on the hill, it’s reasonably flat and super easy to use a bike as transportation. I think anything that brings more foot traffic and life to our end of Broadway is a good thing and I welcome Starbucks’ experiment to see if it helps. (I’m always shocked and amazed at how many Seattlites DO drink Starbucks) Anyway, I think the cool people will continue to go to Vivace and Joe Bar and the others will go to Starbucks simply becuase they don’t really know any better – maybe they will discover the other nearby delightful cafes once they are there.

  9. For a little more selfish reasons, I too would love to see Starbucks place a new un-branded stores in some other neighborhoods. Pioneer Square, SODO, Green Lake, East Lake, and Ballard all could *possibly* support such a concept store. We’ll see what happens. There must be a reason why Cap Hill gets two of them. I’d love to have one in Pioneer Square or SODO. Seattle has had an amazing vibrant coffee culture for so long that there is no reason why indy cafes should worry.

    Thanks to CHS for the blog entry and the memo.


  10. Geez, and it was just last night I watched the South Park rerun of the Harbucks episode, where the big, overbearing, corporate coffee chain moved in right next door to Tweek’s Coffee and put him out of business.

    I think Parker and Stone called it Harbucks because Whorebucks would have been too obvious.

  11. Ok, it is “fair” in the sense that Starbucks can openly set up shop wherever they want. I just think Capitol Hill is already saturated with coffee shops of all types, and that Starbucks ought to have considered another neighborhood to open yet another one of their re-branded shops.

  12. I don’t understand how this is somehow viewed as “cheating.” The store with the best value will sell more coffee.

    People keep saying that the “indie” shops have better coffee, better “vibe” and loyal customers who feel a kinship with the staff and proprietors. Well, if that’s true, a new store shouldn’t change that.

    Fact is, you can’t swing a dead cat in Seattle without hitting an “indie” coffee shop. Starbucks would be damned no matter where they put an urban store. And if Starbucks can look at what people (let’s call them “neighbors”) want from their local coffee shop and make a more welcoming store that’s considered part of that neighborhood – well, that kind of guts the criticism people have had about Starbucks.

  13. I’m not sure why everyone seems to perceive these stores as a looming menace. As far as I can tell, stories of Starbucks running indie shops out of business are very few and far between. In addition to the old Starbucks on Broadway, there’s also a Vivace, Top Pot, and Dilettante within blocks. All of them seem to be doing just fine, which lines up pretty well withthe basic concept that clusters of businesses typically benefit from each other’s presence.

  14. exactly.

    and when was the last time a coffee shop FAILED in Seattle? The survival rate for coffee shops is ridiculously high compared to just about every other business…

  15. I’m approaching this from a consumer perspective–I live in Capitol Hill and frankly am tired of all these “different” coffee shops popping up all over the place. Starbucks already has a regular location on Broadway, their “indie” shop up on 15th, and now another branch on Broadway, right next to an existing coffee place. I have never understood Starbucks’ strategy of placing its stores in such close proximity to one another. Really now, how many coffee places does one neighborhood need??? Again, this is from a consumer perspective, not a businessman/woman.

  16. From a consumer perspective, wouldn’t you just ask the same question about all coffee shops? I’m not sure why you would single out one company and their strategy.

    How many coffee shops does 15th need between Republican and John?
    How many coffee shops does Pike or Pine need?
    How many coffee shops does Broadway need?
    How many coffee shops does Capitol Hill need?

  17. Yes, I would ask that same question of all coffee shops, if their strategy was to saturate areas with their branches. I don’t see 3+ Top Pot, Cafe Vita, Stumptown, Vivace, Joe’s Bar locations all within 5 miles of each other. We’ve seen in the news recently that this Starbucks strategy hasn’t exactly made them more profitable.

  18. The rebranding of this new place is an obvious attempt to hide the Starbuck’s name, even if it says, “inspired by Starbuck’s.” That’s still a misleading statement, implying that it’s an outside company; S-bucks is trying to take advantage of the appearance of competition (not that it needs any more) with itself. It’s also clearly directly going for Joe Bar’s clientele, naming itself after JB’s own Roy Street when the new place is really on Broadway just like two other S-bucks. I’ll keep going to JB for many reasons,

    Just for fun, though, here’s a list of how many cofee shops there will be on Broadway between Roy and Pike once this is up. If we can keep all these shops open and employing people, good for us as a neighborhood!

    Starbucks- 3
    Vivace- 2
    Viccarro’s (might be a new name now, the one in Broadway Market)
    TNT Espresso
    Cafe Septieme

    not to mention all the restaurants that have plain ol’ black coffee. Damn, we’re a caffeinated city

  19. I live down the street from Joe Bar and can’t imagine a better coffee shop, so I’ll keep going there. If Starbucks can make a better place I would have to say, “good for them,” and, “keep making more places better than Joe Bar,” but I don’t see hell freezing over any time soon.

  20. You have got to be kidding. Re-branding is done all the time by businesses large and small, independent or not.

    Toyota shouldn’t sell anything under the name Lexus to name one of many examples that may mislead you.

    If Joe Bar treats its customer’s well then there is nothing to worry about.

  21. actually, all of the independents except for joe bar that you mentioned have at least 2 stores within a 5 mile radius, and some of them have 3.

  22. i find that last comment by the owner of joe bar to be really odd. if the big corporations are beginning to imitate you that well, innovate so that people can tell the difference. it’s an arms race.

    joe bar’s espresso is pretty bad. maybe if it was better, they wouldn’t have to be so hopeful.

  23. Hey! It’s Mr/Ms Anonymous Toyota/Lexus Rebranding Poster! Retire this tired analogy, will ya? I suspect many folk reading this blog understand Branding 101. It is giggle-inducing when Starbucks tries to cultivate a faux “indie” brand, that’s all. No need to get your MBA panties in a bunch.

  24. It’s a typical Seattelite response. In the south it’s called a backhanded compliment…. they just do it better. “Thanks for creating a demand and a business model for coffee in the U.S., but I’m an indie shop and I’m better than you. I came up with this coffee shop concept on my own and crepes, yeah, I invented them too. Calling coffee ‘joe’ that was me.” Get over yourselves! Do what you do best and you’ll never need to worry about the competition.

  25. I guess it’s a question of what you like… Joe Bar is my #1 because I think they make better straight espresso shots than anybody. The booth at Harrison St. is tough competition though.

    Also I notice that Starbucks Corp. uses the term “mercantile coffeehouse” in the memo. I assume this means it will still have many shelves of merchandise for sale? If so, I don’t think anyone will mistake it for a real coffeehouse.

  26. The people who go to Joe bar won’t leave for Roy Street Coffee & Tea. In fact, it may draw more people to that area, and some may choose the local coffee shop over the um…local coffee shop chain.

    I’m not “sad” for “what Starbuck’s has become”. That’s silly. They’ve become successful, and are one of the companies that makes Seattle stand out in the national and global consciousness.

  27. Seriously, all this talk of ‘getting people to come to broadway’ seems a bit of hyberbole, when there’s one dedicated SBUX storefront a whole whopping TWO blocks away: there are also already THREE starbucks outlets on broadway (counting the in-store units): @ Republican, Harrison, and Pike.

    Agreed that capitalism = starbucks can open anywhere they want, and if they sell something people want, they deserve all fruits of their labor. They aren’t Phillip Morris/Kraft and they’re not Exxon, so I won’t waste my time painting them with horns on their heads and melodrama-mustaches – not while there’s much MUCH bigger evil-corporation fish to fry.
    While joe bar has always had cute and cool ambience and atmosphere, their coffee’s never wowed me.
    Disclosure: I’m a diehard vivace-loving coffee snob, and only ‘slum it’ with starbucks, but I’m not so narrowmindedly coffee-bigoted to think that only indies make good coffee. If starbucks started pulling back their roast to post-2nd crack rather than 3rd crack, I might be converted, who knows.
    Also: let’s get the history right: starbucks wasn’t the first espresso joint in town. And looking at the actual evidence presented by caphillsea, there’s no mention that starbuck’s is trying to pretend to be ‘indie’; they are just rebranding to ‘merchantile styled stores’, and rebranding a more personal, community-level feel, by the looks of it. The cookie-cutter starbucks design are most definately a turn off to my sensibilities; I’m sure it contributes to their ‘unfairly demonized’ corp image. If the SBUX rebrands are successful, then the entire corporation might experience a design change, and maybe even a slight corporation change as a result. I don’t think the toyota/lexus analogy works here: Starbucks isn’t trying to promote a luxury version of itself, it’s seemingly trying to re-find it’s original appeal. A move away from the B&N/Box store aesthetics of the last 10-15 years. A fairly noble endeavor for motive for such a large business. Shows how young SBUX really is.
    But until their product competes with vivace, all they get is my observation and bloggy admiration, not my regular dollars.

  28. My big question now is if these re-branded Starbucks coffee shops will still be serving the same products (e.g. coffee) that it sells at its regular locations. If so, then the re-branding does sound rather pointless, and it seems that indeed Starbucks is trying to hide behind other names.

  29. First, thanks Capitol Hill Blog for solving the mystery of what’s going into that space. Two weird things about this new location: (1) They have applied for a liquour license (the notice is hung in the front window) which I don’t think it required for a regular old coffee shop, and (2) It’s huge. Seems like they might have more in mind than just serving coffee and tea.

  30. Thank you for this post because it’s exactly how I’ve felt. I’m so annoyed with the bitching and complaining and anti-Starbucks mentality – it seems so counterproductive and trivial. It reminds me of the “Cola Wars” of the 80’s, a truly irrelevant war based on someone’s preferences that were motivated purely by marketing and image.

    If you get that worked up over Starbucks and/or coffee, I highly recommend you get a more productive hobby. Although sitting at the latest, most awesome, trendy “indie coffee house” may be a hobby, I highly doubt it’s productive. Get over yourselves.

  31. seriously, the people who are lured into the new starbucks ‘concept’ stores deserve to drink the crap-ola starbucks coffee. i can’t believe that anyone would choose starbucks over a small, local shop!

    by the way, unrelated but relevant: have you heard the duck bus go by a starbucks lately? i swear they are in partnership with starbucks, maybe sponsored by them…i don’t know….but EVERY SINGLE TIME the duck bus goes by a starbucks store the driver screams to her captive passengers “STARBUCKS!! CA-CHING!” what is that about!?!?

  32. Somebody commented “How do you define fair. Both are businesses that can compete with each other by offering a better value to customers.”

    What personally bothers me and I believe is ‘unfair’, is that Starsucks is COPYING their competition to the point of plagiarism. Only these indie shops don’t have enough money to fight Starsucks legally. On the other hand, Starsucks will sue little shops if they use anything resembling a mermaid or have a name similar to theirs, even if they’re not a coffee shop. Plagiarism, Hypocrisy, corporate dehumanization. Take your pick or all three. I can’t think of why anyone would think it’s OK what they’re doing.

    Instead of the individual vision each indie shop brings to the table, we get this powerful mimic of a corporation deliberately hiding it’s ownership in order to take money from the local people businessm men and women who live in the community and contribute to this “coffee culture” and instead put it into the already deep pockets of a money driven corporation that can’t even come up with an original idea to save their business. Instead they favor heavy-handed, who’s going to sue us if we copy tactics. What’s fair in that???

  33. It is easy… just look for the ridiculous line “Inspired by Starbucks” cleverly concealed around whatever random coffee shop you are in, and if you see it, get up and leave… too easy. Eventually they will get the message that if people want a Starbucks they would go to a Starbucks, if they want what the neighbor is selling they are going to go to the neighbor, and ripping off all your neighbors’ ideas does not make Starbucks somehow any greater…

  34. To the people wondering if these stores are actually different product-wise from regular Sbux stores – yes, there are big differences. These stores do not serve fraps or blended drinks. They do serve beer and wine (unfortunately it is crappy same ol’ stuff bottled beer – a real missed opportunity to showcase great local beer on draft).

    The food is different. Offering Essential bakery items instead of their regular stuff.

    The coffee offerings include Clover-made coffee and also the “pour-over” style that I had previously seen at Blue Bottle in San Francisco. I also think the tea presentation/style is an upgrade from regular stores.
    Perhaps others can come up with other product differences as well.

  35. Starbucks can open many shops that are individually unprofitable, which could survive for years propped up by successful stores in other areas. By opening so many test stores in a small area, they are clearly taking business from the smaller shops, which may be impacted by the disruption to their business. Worse, while the Starbucks experiment might be temporary, it could impact the long-term landscape of coffee on Cap Hill.

    I hope folks recognize what Starbucks is doing and make an informed decision on whether to support the new stores with their business.

  36. Who cares about this shop opening up and whether it is run by Starbucks or by chimpanzees? If you have ever tasted the espresso from Starbucks or any incarnations of their brand, you will know why they are struggling to hold on to their customers. Coupled with their inability to hire friendly, talented people who give a shit, this location is going to be horribly unprofitable and will close within 2 years.
    This memo talks about their design philosophy but all of that crappy furniture and art is so tired already and I love that they still think it’s cool. With all of the money they are investing in these projects and the look of their stores, they should consider doing something new rather than copy things that have already been done over and over throughout the world. What a weak effort. I suppose it’s par for the course, it is Starbucks and we all expect to be underwhelmed.

  37. I am sitting inside Starbucks new Roy st coffee shop. I am very impressed. Who cares that it is a Starbucks? They are legally allowed to do this and have every right to compete in the marketplace. And at the end of the day, this is a great concept and I really enjoy being here. Unfortunate for the other small coffee houses around though, but now they can take an idea or two from SBux.

    www. MickeyAshmore . com

  38. Starbucks is being predatory. This is not about fair competition. Starbucks does not have to make a profit in this store. They only have to take away enough business from the true indie to drive them out of business. Then, and only then is the new Starbucks expected to make money. That IS the Starbuck’s business model. You are naive, or working for Starbucks, if you say otherwise. I have seen this occur in many towns to many coffee shops. It is not about whether one shop is better than another. It is about the fact that one shop is backed by a huge multi-national corporation, and can win by attrition.

    There are confirmed reports that Starbucks orders their corporate employees to go and spend the day in the new shops, so as to make the shops look and feel as if there are many patrons there and that it is a place to hang out.

    Please, to those spouting free competition. This is not free competition. Please go study basic mico-economic theory before saying another word about free markets, fair competition, customer choice, and all that nonsense.

  39. Go to YouTube, and search for video “grHcg0NQLSw” – it is a short parody of Starbucks and their compulsion to conquer the world.