Saturday, April 26, 2008

Starbuckaroo Bonzai

Starbucks is coming to Buenos Aires in May and I’m peeing in my pants with excitement. Though it’s not exactly my favorite beanery (Peet’s and the now-defunct Diedrich’s beat it hands down), I like the predictable quality of their roasts, their menu, and how I can always count on my drink of choice (the excruciatingly embarrassingly named and tongue-tying iced tall double soy 2-pump Mocha Valencia) to taste how it always does. (Not to mention the customer service is first rate.)

Still, a hugely successful corporation like Starbucks does not walk softly while carrying a big latte stirrer, and it does not make its presence overseas without a lot of hand wringing within the expat community. But call me a minion because I just don’t see what the problem is. I verily guffaw into my laptop whenever I read some sad sap decrying the evilness of all big corporations on his fricking computer. Let’s face it, it’s because of some big corporations that we have the 21st century lifestyle that we do. Without big corporations paying big bucks for research and development, mass production and distribution, we wouldn’t have computers or the internet or affordable cars or email. How about healthcare? Who develops cancer or AIDS research? (This isn't to say I don't think corporations shouldn't have ethical practices, which funny enough, are what Starbucks has in spades--how many other corporations provide health ins to part-time employees?)

Anyway, while Googling for the exact date of the Alto Palermo Starbucks grand opening, I came upon this slideshow, Starbucks vs. the Traveler, by Jim Benning, which I found quite interesting (as I do World Hum). The author goes to Tijuana to see whether the local culture’s doomed after an SB invasion. Don’t miss the comments that follow; here are my favorites:


It seems so ignorant for people to attack big business for being what they are...the best at providing certain goods or services. Do people not realize that Starbucks was once a ma & pa store too? When Starbucks started out, it was just one coffee shop in one city for almost 20 years! I do not believe that the owners set out to destroy the unique cultures of certain societies - but rather to provide outstanding product and lively service to the people worldwide who obviously enjoy them. By Melissa Mischel


It’s easy to condemn Starbucks, but on the other hand, as Eve says, it is someplace warm and dry to buy something small and cheap. And they offer jobs to locals. That’s not a bad thing. By Marilyn Terrell


I enjoy seeing a Starbucks wherever I travel. It provides a nice refuge where I know I can get a great cup a coffee. I think that many people forget that Starbucks started as a single, mom and pop store in Pike Place Market in Seattle. It grew to the giant that it is because it is successful. Starbucks also gets involved in the communities it enters and provides great benefits for its husband included. By Sara


I’m from Buenos Aires Argentina and waiting for the opening of our first Starbucks on May. I can’t believe that some posters think this chain could change a country culture, it just sells coffee. Do sushi, chinese dumplings, mexican tacos or italian pizza change yours? I don’t think so. Starbucks is another coffee chain, we have many local ones and nobody is afraid of Starbucks. So don’t worry, maybe Starbucks changed the coffee history in USA, but not in the rest of the world, they are just another coffee chain .

By Christian [Hey Christian, I’ll see your venti latte and raise you a tall half decaf skinny no whip mumbo jumbo!]


Starbucks, McDonalds, and every other multinational are not going to ruin the entire culture of a country. People always have a choice. When I travel around the globe for business, I see people wearing Nike (USA), Adidas (Germany) and the like. Do we also expect all Germans to be running around in lederhosen, all Japanese in Kimonos, and Scotts in kilts? Every person who complains on the internet about global business is responding on a computer made by a multinational company and connected through communication lines owned by multinational companies. People who are dead set against multinational business should either hole up in a shack in the woods like Theodore Kazinski or go live with the Taliban.

By Craig [While I am not a fan of do-or-die extremism—i.e., the Taliban remark—I like Craig’s point of view.]


Can’t stop globalization. For every Starbucks that opens in Mexico, I’m sure there must be dozens, if not hundreds, of Mexican eateries opened by immigrants in the U.S. I just wish Starbucks would make more of an effort to be more environment-friendly to provide organic coffee.

By Lin [What is the sun shade thingie they got going if not environ friendly?]


The real controversy isn’t about Starbucks it is about chain retailers and independent smaller family owned retailers. When traveling, I opt for the local offerings, full well knowing that I am probably helping to feed a family rather than a large corporation’s bottom line. Perhaps the familiarity when traveling out of one’s comfort zone is why folks stop in at a Starbucks. At home, I shop at independent book stores and coffee shops as well. These folks provide the very best in terms of service and impact on the local communities where they are located. Are we at risk losing the very fabric of independence and the authentic colorfulness of the world’s tapestry with the growth of mega world chains. As we travel the world may we do so in a spirit of support of those whose homeland we are guests.

By Pegg [So wise, Pegg, so wise…]


As I said in the slide show, it’s easy to hate Starbucks. It’s also easy to assume that Starbucks is driving indie coffee shops out of business. In fact, a story by the author of the new book “Starbucked” reported this:

“Just over their five-year period from 2000 to 2005—long after Starbucks supposedly obliterated indie cafes—the number of mom and pops grew 40 percent, from 9,800 to nearly 14,000 coffeehouses. (Starbucks, I might add, tripled in size over that same time period. Good times all around.) So much for the sharp decline in locally owned coffee shops.”

Here’s the link to the Slate piece:

By Jim Benning [Jim, you're a rock star!]


Ken said...

The title of this post is fantastic!

Frank.Sugar&Spice said...

They should open on the 30th of this month. I am one of their suppliers.

Nice blog by the way.