123 Fake Street

Last year, my local Starbucks location slated to close. Okay, “my local Starbucks” is a joke, since there are five Starbucks within a short walk of my house. Anyway, one of them was put on the closure list.

Instead of closing, however, it shut down for a couple of weeks and has now reopened as 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea, “your local coffeehouse.” (Here’s a Seattle P-I story about the place, along with great photos by Josh Trujillo.) Among my neighbors, this is going over about as well as a gorilla dressing up in a suit and trying to convince you that he is really human, honest.

To design 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea, Starbucks employees spent months hanging out in the other coffee and tea places on 15th, as well as bars like Smith, taking notes. No, seriously. In a related development, I have John Updike peeking over my shoulder right now to see how a real independent writer does his thing. (What, John Updike is dead? Okay, maybe it’s Philip Roth.)

I went to check the place out this morning, and I was too impatient to wait on line, but I enjoyed the well-choreographed protest going on outside. There was a guy dressed up as Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and a couple of women in green aprons, welcoming you to “the first local coffeehouse ever on Capitol Hill.” I went in to take a look around, and on the way out, the Schultz-alike asked, “How was the smell? Did we get that right? It was a point of contention down at the main office. I mean the LOCAL office.”

Don’t get me wrong–I don’t hate the new place. I think it injects a needed bit of whimsy into the local coffee landscape. The local places I frequent seem worried. I don’t think they need to be. Authenticity is really hard to fake, no matter how talented your clipboard guys are. Some people don’t care about authenticity, of course, but those people were already going to the Starbucks.

Oh, one postscript: the new Fauxbucks serves beer and wine. In 2005, I wrote an article about drinking beer at coffeehouses. In it, I said:

It will not surprise you to learn that no Starbucks locations serve beer, and a spokeswoman chuckled when I suggested it.

Who’s laughing now?

13 thoughts on “123 Fake Street

  1. Lucian Smith

    I thought it was pretty well documented that more coffeeshops increased the number of people getting coffee, so there was some synergy going on. I assume there’s a plateau somewhere, of course, at which point more serious competition kicks in.

    Also, that is the best protest ever.

  2. Mark J Musante

    Ha ha “fauxbucks”. I wonder if the faux Schultz thought of using the slogan “The fauxbuck stops here!”

  3. Sophia Katt

    I wandered up to the Fauxbucks, too. Until they serve only free trade organic coffee, and until they can produce the owner of the shop to me upon request for comments and concerns I will take my coffee budget elsewhere.

    If you are too ashamed of your product to put your name on it, why should I buy it?

  4. Carly Morris

    Hi Matthew,

    I listened to an interview you did on NPR- which I really liked, and immediately bought the book. My son is now 9 months old and eats everything. I think he’s glad I heard your interview too.

    I heard a story about fauxbucks too. Initially I thought it was pretty lame. After further thought and a little more information, I do see that it’s a scheme they’re playing but I think serving local/in season foods instead of packaged & shipped crap from some centrally located (we’ll call it) fakery, and trying to integrate themselves into the local economy is a marked improvement, and a good example for other multinationals.

    Of course they’re looking for an angle. Of course it’s lame, but now the people who already frequent starbucks are supporting the local economy, they should start serving free trade organics. Myself, I will continue to frequent more local joints.

    If you need a frame of reference, almost all your favorite “small” business organics are owed by big companies. Naked Juice-Pepsi, Odwalla- Coke, Seeds of change-Mars, I could go on. Consult http://www.certifiedorganic.bc.ca/rcbtoa/services/corporate-acquisitions.html

  5. mamster Post author

    I’m pretty sure my favorite small business organic–Alvarez Farm of Mabton, WA–is not owned by any of those companies.

  6. Kristi

    OMG Matthew!

    I picked up your book at Arundel books in DT Seattle last Monday and read your book cover-2-cover Saturday! Can I just say I LOVED, LOVED your book! I immediately tested out the almond milk idea and DAMN is that the good stuff! Yum!

    My Bad Kitty Book Club at Arundel books is doing something food related for the August book club and I will be making sure all my gal pals read your book it’s great!!!

    Ciao! Kristi

  7. Pete

    Let’s see, the coffee is upgraded; many of the goods sold are locally produced; the wi-fi is now free; and leftovers are going to a food bank. Man, that all sucks. I can see why your neighbors are protesting…

  8. mamster Post author

    Pete, you haven’t been briefed on the concept of sticking it to The Man, have you? This is The Man we’re talking about. Not just some guy. THE MAN.

  9. ts

    Carly, Point taken, but those are all companies that started out small (and sincere) and later bought by BIG companies. You can’t blame them for taking the $ (or can you?) 15th Ave is a reverse engineering gimmick, even if the results might be better than the predecessor. My walk through of it didn’t convince me.

  10. Carly Morris

    ts,

    It’s totally a gimmick! I am, as a consumer a little insulted of course.

    It’s absolutely true that some small, sincere companies make profits and are successful enough for a BIG to come and buy it up- and who can blame them? A farmer works his ass off for 30 years and builds a business and the only way he’ll ever retire is to sell, and a BIG comes along and says “how’d you like 30 million dollars?” and the farmer says, “yah” and gets a place on the beach.

    And those companies, even after being purchased by a BIG are still making organic foods but they’re certainly profit driven rather than dream driven- and so is Starbucks. I’m not thinking that I need to spend much time there, but it’s an improvement and so I think, not to be protested. Rather we should spend our time going to other BIGs and saying, “Hey! Starbucks can support local businesses, they can donate leftovers to a foodbank, why are you selling apples in September from Chile?” or whatever.

    I do find often die that die hards (the sort that believe we should avoid it at all costs because it’s the MAN) either burn out from spending all of their time making sure they’re not supporting ANY big company ever (and become a typical yuppie (sure, I drive an SUV now, but I used to homestead)), or they’re not really thinking or researching their position and end up supporting the BIGs themselves.

  11. mamster Post author

    I’ve been giving this some more thought, and I think it’s mostly about the name. If Starbucks had done everything exactly the same but called the new place Starbucks or “Starbucks 15th Ave Cafe,” I think almost no one would have complained. People have a strong aversion to being fooled, and Starbucks is giving the impression that they’re trying to fool customers into thinking they’re entering a non-chain store.

    As I’ve said many times before, I am a huge fan of the Starbucks chain, because all of the local places I frequent (Remedy, Victrola, Vivace, Joe Bar, and so on) are “inspired by Starbucks.” They created the model and the demand.

  12. Ken Sloan

    I’ve been looking for some comments from people who actually live where this is happening and happened to stumble upon your blog through Chowhound. I suppose it’s not surprising that it’s being taken almost like a joke :)

  13. Carly Morris

    Totally. It’s crap that they’re being sneaky. That’s what I object to.

    It’s like early TV. They would always be replacing the actor who plays the dad with somebody else and then they’d say, “the television audience isn’t that discerning”. Like we wouldn’t notice it’s a completely different guy.

    No matter who says it, I hate being told I’m stupid- Starbucks included.

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