Java panic: Starbucks closing all stores Tuesday evening

While Starbucks restores "the art of espresso," latte-sipping blue-staters might have to slum it at Dunkin' Donuts.

By Farhad Manjoo
Published February 26, 2008 6:35PM (EST)

Alert, alert, alert: All American Starbucks shops will shut down this evening between 5:30 and 9 p.m. local time to conduct what the company is calling "a historic in-store education and training event."

Starbucks has been down on its luck lately -- it recently announced plans to shut down 100 slow stores and cut 600 jobs -- and tonight's event, to hear the company tell it, is a kind of zen deal aimed at getting 135,000 in-store employees back into the spirit of Starbucks.

Here's how Howard Schultz, the fellow who made the company what it is, described the event to comrades in a document called "Transformation Agenda Communication #8" (no really, that's the real title):

We will close all of our U.S. company-operated stores to teach, educate and share our love of coffee, and the art of espresso. And in doing so, we will begin to elevate the Starbucks Experience for our customers. We are passionate about our coffee. And we will revisit our standards of quality that are the foundation for the trust that our customers have in our coffee and in all of us.

Schultz, who signed the communiqué "onward," has long displayed a kind of split personality on his business -- he has done more than any other person in history to take espresso drinks mainstream, but he also worries, often, about what he calls "the commoditization of the Starbucks Experience."

In a memo leaked to Jim Romenesko's Starbucks Gossip blog last year, Schulz lamented how expansion has damaged the soul of his coffee shops. of the results has been stores that no longer have the soul of the past and reflect a chain of stores vs. the warm feeling of a neighborhood store. Some people even call our stores sterile, cookie cutter, no longer reflecting the passion our partners feel about our coffee. In fact, I am not sure people today even know we are roasting coffee. You certainly can't get the message from being in our stores.

So tonight, Starbucks tries to get back its coffee mojo. I applaud them. And I hope that they find a way to get some better baked goods. Seriously, Howard, that new morning bun you've got in my neighborhood store tastes like 80-percent post-recycled paper. What do others think Starbucks should do?

In its release, the company recommends that latte fanatics spend the three-and-a-half-hour coffee downtime roasting a turkey, organizing their closets, or watching the Academy Award-nominated short films.

Dunkin' Donuts has a better idea. From 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. today, Dunkin' stores will sell small lattes, cappuccinos and espressos for 99 cents. A Dunkin' exec tells Newsday, "We never want any customers to ever be denied access to their specialty drinks."

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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