Starbucks is opening Friday a big new lair on Capitol Hill — a hybrid of a roastery and a cafe, where some of the world’s most exclusive beans will be roasted right in front of the eyes — and noses — of customers.
Taking the center stage is a monster-sized copper cask marked with the letter R (for Reserve), where roasted beans rest for a few days to unleash their qualities. If Roald Dahl’s character Charlie Bucket were a grown-up, this is where he’d get his java.
“I said: ‘Liz, let’s build the ‘Willy Wonka’ of coffee,’ ” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told a group of investors and analysts on Thursday in Seattle, recalling a conversation two years ago with Starbucks design guru Liz Muller.
The store represents the latest move by the Seattle coffee empire to upstage competitors in the raging market for super-high-quality coffee. It also underscores how Starbucks needs to relentlessly tweak its offerings to fuel growing at the breakneck pace investors have come to expect of it.
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Over the next five years, the company aims to nearly double its annual revenue to about $30 billion. That growth target comes at a challenging time as retailers have seen foot traffic decrease in the U.S. as shoppers migrate online.
So the company needs to diversify its offerings and lure customers not only during the morning but throughout the day.
For example, it plans to double the revenue it gets from food in U.S. stores to about $4 billion by 2019. It also plans to roll out its Starbucks Evenings program — featuring beer, wine and tapas — from about 30 stores to 3,000 in the United States.
Starbucks executives also acknowledge the need to constantly invent alluring experiences to draw customers out of their online shell. With the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room, it’s putting on a big show.
“I think the roastery is a metaphor for the whole company,” Schultz told the 150 or so investors who gathered in Seattle for a biennial meeting with top management.
Muller, the Amsterdam-based designer for Starbucks, said that “this is a little snippet” of the future of Starbucks; what’s on view at Pike Street and Melrose Avenue will “inform” further mutations across the company’s realm.
The 15,000-square-foot facility also has an important functional element: It will be the main production and staging ground for the Reserve brand, under which Starbucks gathers its priciest coffee beans, which it often sources in small quantities.
The store’s launch menu includes El Peñol and Montebonito coffees from Colombia, Cabo Azul beans from Nicaragua and peaberry beans from Sumatra.
Currently most of those beans are roasted and shipped from its big roastery in Kent.
There are two roasters in the Capitol Hill building: one for coffee sold locally, and a huge one for shipping the Reserve brand to 1,500 Starbucks stores around the world, nearly twice the number of locations now served. There might be another similar roastery in Asia in the next few years as well, Schultz said.
The roasting process for the entire operation can be seen throughout — including from a one-way mirror in the bathroom.
The beans meant to be consumed sur placeare funneled to the coffee bar, above the heads of customers, through pneumatic tubes.
As the coffee beans rattle through the pipes and fall into glass silos above the modern, wraparound bar, they make a sound quite similar to rain.
Once there they’ll be ground and crafted into beverages by a rotating cast of Starbucks barista superstars from around the world.
Every time a new batch is being roasted, its name and origin appear on an old-fashioned train-station flap display.
Muller said she picked it because it felt more authentic than a digital screen, and she liked the sound it made when the letters changed.
The space is divided into several areas.
A main bar will be where most people will get their coffee; it’s lower than seen in many Starbucks stores, giving customers a view of the preparation methods for espresso and other drinks, said Muller.
There’s a second coffee-sipping area dubbed the “Coffee Experience Bar,” where more experimental methods — from pour-overs to siphons — will be used, and where Starbucks “coffee masters” will give classes. That area can also be reserved for events.
There’s also a “scooping bar,” where customers can buy fresh beans.
For the hungry souls, sharing the same cavernous space, there’s a new, 50-seat incarnation of Tom Douglas’ pizzeria, Serious Pie.
There’s also a library with a meeting table and more than 200 books related to coffee.
Muller said that most of the materials used are made in the U.S., and she endeavored to keep many of the original features of the early 20th-century building, including terrazzo floors and many of the original ceiling beams, some of which were transformed into furniture. The space is designed for 325 people.
The store will also offer a blend of rare coffees that will be available only at the store. The initial offering is called “Pantheon No.1.”
Muller said that the store allows coffee fanatics to appreciate “the full journey of the bean.”