Why is Starbucks so Successful?

There are lots of answers to this question already out there.  As business models go, Starbucks is a pretty attractive candidate for analysis.  It exploded overnight, it’s completely ubiquitous, and it has a relatively positive public perception.  But why?  Is it the coffee?  The atmosphere?  It seems that a lot of what’s written about the corporate culture (and a lot of what comes out of the mouth of Howard Shultz, the CEO) attributes the success to good service and attention to detail.

“We have a competitive advantage over classic brands in that every day we touch and interact with our customers directly.  Our product is not sitting on a supermarket shelf like a can of soda.  Our people have done a wonderful job of knowing your drink, your name, [and] your kids’ names.”  – Shultz

The golden calf... or decalf, if you prefer.

Success in business seems to be an emotional beast to Shultz.  In his book, Pour Your Heart into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, he writes extensively of the company’s feel-good intangibles: strong values, running with inspiration, etc.  I’ve spent a lot of time in his franchise over the past 6 months, and I have to admit the relationships I’ve built with employees have been genuinely refreshing (shout out to George at 21st St!). Still, I think it’s naïve – or maybe just aggrandizing – to attribute such global dominance to a friendly staff.  I recently sat down with a tall Pike Place and really thought about what made Starbucks so appealing.  Here’s what I came up with.  Continue reading


The Beer List: Unibroue

My passport to Quebec.

This week was really all about one brewery: Unibroue.  Think of Unibroue as a society of sinister Belgian monks, banished to live in some dark monastery, hidden in the shadows of Quebec.  That’s how I see it, at least.

In reality, Unibroue is the beer jewel of French Canada.  Located in the town of Chambly, it’s deeply rooted in the province’s cultures and traditions.  In fact, all of it’s beers are named in honor of local history.  Trois Pistoles (Three Coins) refers to a legendary black horse that helped to build a local church.  Don De Dieu is homage to the ship that discovered Quebec in the name of France.  The brewery is as legitimate as it is respectful, responsible for the first trappist ale brewed in North America and recipient of countless accolades and awards.  There’s no doubt that the love between Quebec and Unibroue is mutual.  Continue reading

Mucho gusto, Chayote.

I recently crossed paths with the chayote for the first time in my local Mexican market.  Instant intrigue.  ‘What is this cactus fruit?’  I thought, ‘And why does the other one look like a butt crack?”  It was an impulse buy.

Does that not belong on the rim of a cocktail?

I have to admit, I was too intimidated to touch them for the next few days – in no small part because handling the spiky one really hurt.  Eventually, I asked my friend, Humberto (one of the most talented cooks I know), what to do with them.  He suggested boiling them, peeling them, and sprinkling them with salt.

Continue reading

The Beer List: MY HOMEBREW

It was finally time.  My beer had boiled, it had strained.  It had been abused, bottled, and cast away.  And it had waited, in darkness, for three weeks.  The yeast were sleepy and full, but I was thirsty.  It was time to drink.

I was tense cracking open my first bottle of homebrew.  So much of the process had been out of my hands, left up to bacteria and time.  And what parts I did “control” didn’t really build my confidence either.  What waited for me inside that bottle was hard to guess, but there was no doubt I’d be drinking it.  Continue reading

Food Fluff (and the atrophy of the American mind)

Some kids are "Picky Eaters".

In the most recent issue of Psychology Today, an article by Emily Anthes titled “Accounting for Taste” attempts to map the entire landscape of human eating preferences.  In four pages.  Lucky for Anthes (and the editors of Psych Today), she broke it all down to 3 easy to swallow categories:

  1. Picky Eaters
  2. Adventurous Eaters
  3. Reformed Eaters

No great insight was shed.  Highlights – kept at a minimum – include empirical evidence that pickiness may be hereditary and that children develop broader palates by observing others than by being forced to try new things themselves. That’s pretty much it.  Where the article succeeded was in begging the question: Why was it written in the first place?  Psychology Today is a pretty insightful magazine – why devote 6 pages (2 for the title) on fluff?  Continue reading

Zen and the Skillet

Last night, just before going to bed, I decided to make breakfast.  For the morning.  It had been a long day, and the idea of French Toast with pear chutney sounded real freaking good.  I figured I’d make the chutney ahead of time since it’s sort of a pain and pretty time consuming.  So there I am – exhausted at 2 in the morning – dicing pears and throwing them on the skillet.  Finally, after much too long, the consistency was right.  A pinch of salt and it would be done.

That’s when I screwed up.   Continue reading

Kix, a good source of Irony

Kid tested, New Years resolution approved.

A little over a month ago I vowed (heroically) to give up covert corn. It’s been a struggle (and I must admit my record isn’t spotless), but for the most part it’s forced me to make healthier – or at least more identifiable – decisions.

The weirdness of this little adventure showed itself in a funny and telling way earlier this week, during a late night run to the corner store.  The goal was simple: pick up some cereal that was free of hidden corn.  But of the more than twenty different boxes to choose from, only one fit the bill: Kix.  Crispy Corn Puffs.

Thanks for telling me.

Take another look at that box.  It’s basically a love letter to corn.  Not only is half of it devoted to a giant, gloating ear, the back boasts a “Maize Maze” along with some enlightening “Kernels of Knowledge” (Did you know that corn is grown on every continent of the world except Antarctica?).

Still, for as public as the cereal’s corn devotion is, it’s sweetened by brown sugar and has a surprisingly basic ingredient list.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s corn, straight up.  But it’s as overt as corn can possibly get.

kudos, Kix