Almost there...

Tuesday, September 12, 2000

After two days in Cleveland, I've determined one startling fact: the Starbuck's revolution has not happened here yet. And for the first time in my life, that's a little disappointing. It's always seemed a little odd in the Bay Area that there's almost as many Starbucks as gas stations, but what wouldn't I give for a good consistent cup of coffee right about now! I've always been one of those coffee snobs who thinks that Starbucks isn't good enough, but when travelling, I don't usually find a Peet's or Seattle's Best in every city. But Starbucks is usually there. Like McDonalds, only offering my drug of choice.

I realized today as well that having my daily cup of coffee, even though I'm predominently a decaf drinker these days, is as much an addiction as those smokers standing outside the door. At our first break, I rushed out of the meeting room, down the elevator, and out into the street. I looked at all the smokers huddled in the doorway trying to stay out of the brisk wind so that their cigarettes didn't go out. I had my standard internal dialog - "how sad to be so addicted that you're willing to go to such lengths..." I turned to my right and saw nothing resembling coffee. I turned to my left and walked half a block and saw nothing on the horizon resembling good coffee. Then one of the smokers said, "what are you looking for?" Desperately I turned and said, "Coffee!" She said, "Are we out upstairs already?" I shifted gears mentally saying, "No, but that coffee up there is just so weak." I looked at her with her cigarette pinched between her index and middle finger. I suddenly realized I was no better than her. Perhaps worse since my addiction is still blithely accepted (encouraged?) by society. The only difference was that she had been kicked to the curb of social acceptability. She said, "Well, I think if you go back in the building and down the escalator just past the elevators, there's a little shopping mall down there that probably has coffee." My personal revelatory moment concluded, I broke for the promised coffee and found a small mom and pop coffee bar specializing in flavored coffees(bleh!). In under a minute I had a double cappucino in a styrofoam cup warming my hands and soothing my heart. Coffee crisis averted.

It still brings me back to my basic question: why is Starbucks so omni-present in the Bay Area where the need for good coffee is already being supplied, when there are perfectly wide open markets available elsewhere? At my old office in San Jose, there was a Starbucks on the Plaza, and then another on the next block that you could see from the windows of the first. And there was another two further blocks away. And there happened to be another older mom and pop shop on the plaza to boot. It was getting just plain silly, although the silliest I've seen to date was the Starbucks across the street from the Starbucks, an odd side effect of both their agressive competitive plan and their acquisition of Pasqua. It just seems odd that they're so willing to overclutter one area while ignoring others. Even McDonalds isn't nearly as thick as Starbucks is in some areas. And Starbucks seems that it wants to become the McDonalds of the coffee industry including a consistent product even if it isn't the very best. And when I'm travelling like this, that's exactly what I want: food (or beverages) I can trust to be acceptable. The only thing I really fault Starbucks for is for doing evil things like putting in a location across the street from Peet's Coffee and thereby trying to steal their business. If there's good coffee there first, just leave it be! There's obviously plenty of open markets left.

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