How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else

In his fifties, Michael Gates Gill had it all: a big house in the suburbs, a loving family, and a top job at an ad agency with a six-figure salary. By the time he turned sixty, he had lost everything except his Ivy League education and his sense of entitlement. First, he was downsized at work. Next, an affair ended his twenty-year marriage. Then, he was diagnosed with a slow-growing brain tumor, prognosis undetermined. Around the same time, his girlfriend gave birth to a son. Gill had no money, no health insurance, and no prospects.

One day as Gill sat in a Manhattan Starbucks with his last affordable luxury—a latté—brooding about his misfortune and quickly dwindling list of options, a 28-year-old Starbucks manager named Crystal Thompson approached him, half joking, to offer him a job. With nothing to lose, he took it, and went from drinking coffee in a Brooks Brothers suit to serving it in a green uniform. For the first time in his life, Gill was a minority–the only older white guy working with a team of young African-Americans. He was forced to acknowledge his ingrained prejudices and admit to himself that, far from being beneath him, his new job was hard. And his younger coworkers, despite having half the education and twice the personal difficulties he’d ever faced, were running circles around him.

The other baristas treated Gill with respect and kindness despite his differences, and he began to feel a new emotion: gratitude. Crossing over the Starbucks bar was the beginning of a dramatic transformation that cracked his world wide open. When all of his defenses and the armor of entitlement had been stripped away, a humbler, happier and gentler man remained. One that everyone, especially Michael’s kids, liked a lot better.

The backdrop to Gill’s story is a nearly universal cultural phenomenon: the Starbucks experience. In How Starbucks Saved My Life, we step behind the counter of one of the world’s best-known companies and discover how it all really works, who the baristas are and what they love (and hate) about their jobs. Inside Starbucks, as Crystal and Mike’s friendship grows, we see what wonders can happen when we reach out across race, class, and age divisions to help a fellow human being.

Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

Since 1987, Starbucks’s star has been on the rise, growing from 11 Seattle, WA-based stores to more than 1,000 worldwide. Its goals grew, too, from the more modest, albeit fundamental one of offering high-quality coffee beans roasted to perfection to, more recently, opening a new store somewhere every day. An exemplary success story, Starbucks is identified with innovative marketing strategies, employee-ownership programs, and a product that’s become a subculture. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a manager, a marketer, or a curious Starbucks loyalist, Pour Your Heart into It will let you in on the revolutionary Starbucks venture. CEO Howard Schultz recounts the company’s rise in 24 chapters, each of which illustrates such core values as “Winning at the expense of employees is not victory at all.”

The Gospel According to Starbucks: Living with a Grande Passion

Introducing the life you’d gladly stand in line for

You don’t stand in line at Starbucks® just to buy a cup of coffee. You stop for the experience surrounding the cup of coffee.
Too many of us line up for God out of duty or guilt. We completely miss the warmth and richness of the experience of living with God. If we’d learn to see what God is doing on earth, we could participate fully in the irresistible life that he offers.
You can learn to pay attention like never before, to identify where God is already in business right in your neighborhood. The doors are open and the coffee is brewing. God is serving the refreshing antidote to the unsatisfying, arms-length spiritual life–and he won’t even make you stand in line.
Let Leonard Sweet show you how the passion that Starbucks® has for creating an irresistible experience can connect you with God’s stirring introduction to the experience of faith.

What It’s All About?

I recently picked up “It’s Not About the Coffee: Leadership Principles from a Life at Starbucks”.

As you might know, I am a bit of coffee coin-a-sewer, owning a $2000 espresso machine and such. You might also remember the only popular blog post I’ve ever written – the one about the Starbucks logo. I was always very interested in everything Starbucks. The reason? Well, I really could not understand how a company with coffee that is so bad could be so popular.  I mean, have you tasted the stuff?

“It’s Not About the Coffee” – wow, I thought, this should clear some things up. Because, I for sure know that it’s not about the coffee. I’ve had good coffee. It just can’t be about the coffee. 

The first sentence of the book (int the A Note to Readers) reads: “Although this book is titled It’s Not About the Coffee,  of course it is about the coffee–it’s about the people and the coffee.” Leadership lesson number one: start out with a lie, then weasel out. 

Cloying, sacchariney  corporate doublespeak only got worse on the following several pages, I am not even sure I can get through the book at all.  There might be some interesting Starbucks anecdotes further down, so I’ll keep trying. Meanwhile I get a weird feeling about Howard Behar – the same I used to get about Soviet Politburo members: I could not understand if they believed themselves in the ideals that they extolled. 

Ok, I read a couple of more pages, and was instantly rewarded by learning this interesting, although disturbing fact: besides the coffee passport, which I knew about, there’s a piece of corporate propaganda known as the “Green Apron Book.”  Almost like Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book”. Neat.

All of this reminded me a story that I’ve read somewhere about a North Korean student at a Moscow university that used to carry around with him a little portrait of the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung. He would meditate, looking at the picture for hours, and even used it instead of a mirror while shaving. When asked – how could he shave without a mirror, he said – this is better than a mirror.

I guess, if you can make people shave in front of a portrait, you can make them believe that Starbucks coffee is tasty. There are ways…

Starbucks Moonshine

Livejournal has the best community blogs. I frequently read baristas even though it’s often full of petty grievances, tean angst and other Livejournal-flavored posts. But some are absolute gems. Like this story of an old lady who asked baristas to give her empty syrup bottles. After a month of getting the empties, someone curious asked her about how she was using them. Her response too honest for her own good, as she got no more bottles. It turned out that she was giving the bottles to her daughter for bottling moonshine.

How the Starbucks Siren Became Less Naughty

[update] Starbucks logo changes again.

You are probably here because you looked closely at the Starbucks logo and were a little confused about what is depicted on it. Is it a mermaid? What are those things that she is holding up with her hands? Wasn’t the logo different before? What’s the history of it?

I asked those questions myself and did a little bit of digging. My research started with a book that I had, called A Dictionary of Symbols by J.E. Cirlot. In it there was a chapter about Sirens.

Basically, from what I gathered from different sources, including that book, there is a lot of confusion between the different mythological half-women. Typically they are called Sirens – both the half-bird/half-woman and the half-fish/half-woman varieties. The fish type are usually called Mermaids. Both types according to the ancient Greeks were in the business of seducing mariners with songs and promises of sex and then killing them, but Hans Christian Andersen and Disney mostly made everybody forget that.

The whole sex-symbol status of mermaids hinges on the question which part is “woman” – upper or lower. “The other type of mermaid” that hapless Fry was referring to would have problems attracting suitors, of course. And how do you do it with the normal type?

Wise mythologists came up with the answer, of course. And the answer is a two-tailed mermaid sometimes called a Melusine.

The book had an old engraving of a two-tailed mermaid. It reminded me of the Starbucks Siren, but back then I did not realize that the original Starbucks logo had a slightly altered version of that engraving in the original brown cigar band-shaped logo.

Notice that the graphic designer removed the belly button, the unattractive shading around the bulging tummy of the 15th century siren and merged the tail-legs to remove the suggestion of naughty bits. The logo Siren also smiles a little while its 15th century doppelganger is looking rather grim. Other than that it’s clear that this is exactly the image that he or she was using.

According to uspto.gov “[Starbucks] mark consists of the wording “Starbucks Coffee” in a circular seal with two stars, and the design of a siren (a two-tailed mermaid) wearing a crown”.

Here’s the “cigar band” logo from which I took the image above. The original hippie Starbucks owners did not sell espresso drinks, but mostly sold coffee beans, tea and spices. Today Starbucks sells liquor and ice cream, but no spices if you don’t count the cinnamon gum and the stuff on the condiment table.

The next, more familiar green iteration of the logo has a more attractive stylized siren. The chest is hidden, but the belly button is still there.

Here is the current logo. They cropped the siren image so that only a hint of the tails is visible. I asked hourly partners at Starbucks and friends, and none of them could figure out what those things to the side of Siren’s head were.

Lately I’ve stopped seeing pictures of the Siren on Starbucks mugs – they seem to favor just the word “Starbucks”. I also started seeing the new type of the siren as part of store decoration and on coffee packaging. She only has one tail. I guess the family-unfriendly image of a fish-woman spreading her tails is on its way out.

[update] Here’s a picture of the new siren:

The brown Siren logo can still be found on merchandize sold at the original Pike Place Market Starbucks in Seattle. The logo is altered though – instead of a “cigar band” design it uses just a circle logo. Cigar band logo mugs and coffee jars can still be found on eBay for upwards of $50 per mug and $200 per coffee jar. I am still looking for anything bearing an “Il Giornale” (a company founded byHoward Schultz that later ended up buying out Starbucks with the help of none other than Bill Gates Sr.) logo.

[Update]
Dear Boing Boing readers – you might enjoy other sections of this blog such as Gastronomic Adventures and 100 Views of the Empire State Building.

[Update]
I was alerted to another article that explores the Siren’s symbolism. I haven’t used it in my research, but it is very thorough.

[Update] The whole logo history is described pretty well in Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time. The book is full of other Starbucks trivia: if I remember correctly, it states that Howard Schultz is a close friend of Yanni.

[Update]

I received some information from Doug Fast, the designer behind the green logo. He also graciously sent me some rare examples of the logo, for which I am extremely thankful.

“I am the guy who designed the green SBUX logo. The original brown SBUX logo was designed in 1971 by my employer before I started working for him in January 1974. ( I still work there as a designer) The design company was then called Heckler/ Bowker, here in Seattle. Bowker (the company copy writer) was one of the three original founders of SBUX and left Heckler/ Bowker in 1984 to take on SBUX full time. (there were 5-6 stores at that time) The other two founders were; Jerry Baldwin and Zev Siegal. Heckler/Bowker came up with the Starbucks name and Heckler came up with the first (brown) logo. The other name strongly suggested was Pequod, but lost out to Starbucks.

The original SBUX store was NOT in the Public Market or in the Arcade as people think. It was at the corner of Western Avenue & Virginia, just north, across the street from the Public Market at the foot of the steep hill going up to 1st Avenue, and opened it’s doors in March 1971. I have a photo of it and also a drawing of it that was on an SBUX Christmas card from 1977.

The first retail Starbucks coffee drink concept store was originally called Il Giornale, and located on 4th Avenue in downtown Seattle. There was only one of these stores ever. I designed the logo for that in 1985-86, plus the coffee bag packaging, and still have the stationary, bags, and cup designs in my sample file. Howard Schultz was still an employee of SBUX at that time, not the owner, as I’ve seen said in previous blog info. here.

The reason only ONE Il Giornale store ever existed was because of the purchase of SBUX by Howard and his investers, and because the SBUX name and logo had so much capital already, they changed Il Giornale back to SBUX and wanted a more reproducable SBUX design, to go national.

I did the green “full siren” logo with a stronger, simpler, read for reproduction. The SBUX type was HAND DRAWN and based on the typeface, Franklin Gothic (this was pre-computer, folks) and had to be drawn so it bent well, around the circle. We submitted the logo to Howard, one with a red color and one in a green color. He picked the green color option.

In 1992 we had to blow up the siren to eliminate the spread, so called suggestive tails, so that’s the version you see today.

I still have most of the original concept work for the creation of this logo in one of my big sketchbooks. To me at the time, it was just another logo job to do. Who would have thought I’d be sick of seeing it all over the place. It isn’t one of my best logos.”

Original stores from the old coffee bag:

The original “cigar band” logo:

Il Giornale logo:

Green “bellybutton” logo

One of the newer coffee bags that reimagines the siren:

New “cigar band” logo with covered up nipples and cleaner lines:

New plastic stirrer / plug in the shape of the siren:

Old logo at one of the first (from what I hear it’s not the “original” location) stores at the Pike Market in Seattle

original-starbucs-logo

starbucks-pike-market

Did reading this article inspire you to write a poem about Starbucks? You can use Rhymebuster, the algorithmic rap generator. Turns out a lot of things rhyme with Starbucks (other than sucks).


TT: Planetdoes News

While buying coffee at hidden Starbucks I browsed through the little pamphlets that they have next to condiments and stirring sticks (did you notice that they have Splenda now?). What have I learned? Firstly, I learned that a Starbucks grunt’s official title is “hourly partner”. Cordwainer Smith’s rhyme comes to mind : “I need a temporary dog / For a temporary job / On a temporary place / Like Earth!” I kind of collect peculiar corporate job titles, as I’ve mentioned at the end of an earlier Thought Tally.

Secondly I learned that you can come into any Starbucks and ask for complimentary coffee grounds. As it turns out, coffee grounds make an excellent nitrogen fertilizer for your garden. I wonder if Starbucks coffee is a good fertilizer – it sure tastes that way.

***

Why I drink the Starbucks fertilizer? Because my lunch break is short and Joe’s is in the Village. By the way, recently I’ve learned that there’s another good coffee place called Ninth Street Espresso. I need to pay them a visit.

***

I also need to some other coffee and caffeine news. There’s a new trend in espresso making. The innovative barristas started cutting off the bottoms of portafilters. This lets them notice any minute imperfections in packing of grinds and have outstanding quality control of the extraction. It also looks cool as hell. I am thinking about doing the same with one of my spare portafilters.

I learned this interesting tidbit because these days there are several outstanding blogs kept by super high quality coffee house operators. There’s Victrola Coffee, Blue Bottle Clown College and Tonx Dot Org. I suggest that you subscribe to their feeds unless you can’t stand heartbreakingly beautiful photos of artisanal caffeinated drinks.

***

In other news I seem to be totally addicted to matcha tea. I got some awesome “thick tea” from Japan and it rocks.

Still Round The Corner There May Wait A Restaurant or a Hidden Starbucks

Advertising might be the engine of commerce, but there is a surprising number of NYC businesses are hidden inside skyscrapers with almost no indication of them on the outside.

For instance, me and my co-workers often go to a Starbucks that is located in a lobby of a skyscraper. There is no sign outside, and inside you need to pass a security guy (who surprisingly lets you through) and turn a corner. I could not believe my eyes – you absolutely had to know where that Starbucks was.

There is nothing special about our hidden Starbucks, except it is the closest one to us and the lines are usually shorter. They do have an old style La Marzocco machine not yet replaced by the new superautomatics, but the barrista has no idea about how to grind the coffee and tamp it properly. I guess they don’t teach that anymore at Starbucks U.

There is a more interesting hidden place that we frequent. It’s a restaurant called Taam-Tov (46 West 47th Street, 4th floor 212-768-8001) which happens to be located on the fourth floor of a dumpy and decrepit art deco building in the middle of the Jewelry district on 47th street. To be fair I have to mention that there is a little sign on the step of a staircase that can be seen from outside. But you have to climb 8 flights of stairs, past dirty walls, an exposed phone comm. box and frequent full trash bags. There you will see an unmarked closed door and a small open order window.

Alternatively you can enter a jewelry store on the first floor and take a tiny little elevator, which will deposit you inside the restaurant. I strongly discourage you from using it.

Once me and three of my co-workers, one of whom is “portlier” than I am (and I am pretty “portly” myself), two have asthma and only one inhaler, despite my reluctance chose to take that tiny elevator. We let a bunch of people go up before us, waited for the elevator to come back and boarded it. Immediately what seemed to me like three shady looking Russian jewelers squeezed in after us. To my horror I noticed that in fact there was a fourth guy with them, just as sweaty and unshaven, but really short and skinny. Of course we got stuck between the floors and it took me and one of the jewelers few very uncomfortable minutes to figure out how to open the doors. Oh, and I forgot to mention – the co-worker who insisted the most on the elevator was not only slightly asthmatic, but a bit claustrophobic as well.

Anyway, the place is rather unique. The patrons are mostly jewelers – you might see them exchanging large sums of money and gold or diamonds, but there are a lot of programmers from surrounding offices who also found that place somewhere. Since the place was featured in the last issue of Time Out New York dedicated to cheapest restaurants, there the mix will be a bit more eclectic in the future.

The cuisine can be described as Middle Eastern/Russian, typical of the Baku region. Everything is cooked on site (in fact I’ve witnessed a small kitchen fire once that was quickly taken under control while everyone continued eating), kosher and very tasty. Shish kabobs are excellent (my favorite is rib kabob), so are soups. Just don’t ask for sour cream for your Borscht – and you can be sure that they don’t use Ukrainian pork fat. Other than that it’s very good. There are good salads, golubtsi, pelmeni, shawarma, etc. They even have kompot – Russian fruit punch and green tea served in small “piala” cups with sugar cubes (for drinking “vprikusku”).

Over the years I had lunch at Taam Tov with my boss, my boss’ bosses there, my co-workers, three different livejournal users and many other people. And until I’ve read Time Out New York article I did not know that one floor below Taam Tov there’s a second hole in the wall restaurant called Sabor Latino.

Crouching Tourist, Hidden Bathroom

One of the most annoying things about New York and many other American cities is the lack of pubic bathrooms. There are no paid privately ran WCs like in Europe, so tourists mostly rely on McDonalds and Starbucks stores for bathroomage (if it’s not a word, we have the technology to make it one).

There are a few other esoteric choices like subway bathrooms – despite the popular wisdom that there are none, most terminal stations and big hubs have open bathrooms, which are scary and extremely dirty, but are sometimes functioning. In all of my years in NYC I wasn’t brave enough to actually use one. I have seen a few experimental high tech bathrooms, sort of 24th century port-o-johns around the city. The one that I used once had a five minute time limit after which the doors opened and the floor was automatically cleaned.

But if you are to experience the NYC’s ultimate hidden, but public bathroom, you need to visit the Trump Tower (725 Fifth Avenue at 56th Street ). There is a doorman next to a set of doors that you can see swung open when an unlucky Apprentice is being expelled, but it’s not going to open for you. You need to enter through revolving doors reserved for regular shmoes. But inside you’ll find a huge pink marble lobby housing a public mall, complete with a multistoried lighted waterfall, Starbucks, Tower Records, a small booth hawking “You are fired” t-shirs and mugs, a bunch of luxury stores, a deli counter and – you guessed it – one of New York’s best public restrooms.

Almost everything in the building is adorned with a “T” or with Turmp’s “family crest”. I was expected to see it on trashcans and urinals, but I guess The Donald did not want to go that far with branding. Men’s bathroom has grey marble surfaces and is well maintained. I expected it to be more lavish, but it is still better than the rest.