The ‘Secret Starbucks’ a Secret No More


People in the Pacific Northwest take their coffee very seriously. Most have a favorite local spot. In fact, many of our best known coffee house brands and logo designs hail from the ‘Emerald City’ of Seattle, which might as well be called the Coffee City for its locals’ legendary dedication to their morning brew and their use of local coffee houses as places to meet and gather. These factors make Seattle a great place to test coffee brands, but a bad place for corporations to try out their latest tricks.

‘Trick’ may seem like a harsh word, but this is exactly how locals viewed 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea. Although the shop was ran like a local store and appeared to be a local store, it was indeed testing grounds for a new Starbucks concept. Called Stealthbucks, Fauxbucks, and other less printable names by many disdainful locals, the shop has been the site of protests and general contempt.

However, the store has heard the cries of local protesters and is dropping its pretense. It is now in the process of being converted to an official Starbucks, complete with logo design, signage, and the familiar siren.

Why didn’t 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea work? Because its brand was disingenuous. If the corporation had been upfront about opening the location to test new Starbucks concepts without the baggage of the Starbucks name, people might have embraced the shop. After all, Starbucks could be considered a local Seattle brand, as its original coffee house sits a hilly walk away on iconic Pike Place Market. The store offered meeting spaces, locally sourced foods for snacking, and of course great coffee. There’s nothing wrong with that.

There is really no better way to test a new concept than to simply put it into place, and Starbucks has more resources for these types of experiments than the average coffee business. However, they should have been more honest from the very beginning about their intentions and the origin of the 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea store. Seattle residents are generally proud of their designation as the nation’s most coffee-oriented market, so many likely would have welcomed the chance to be guinea pigs. However, no one likes to think that they are being deceived.

In addition, local living is a popular concept in Seattle and indeed throughout the nation. Even appearing to be a small, local business when you in fact are not will make people feel deceived and offended.

This was a mistake for the Starbucks brand, and the brand was indeed hit hard in one of its most important markets. The only answer now is to backtrack and rebrand the store as what it really was all along: a Starbucks to the core. Our only question is a more pragmatic one: will the old logo design be used in the store only to be removed this March, or will the company hold off on rebranding the location until its new and much-discussed logo design is rolled out this spring?