Starbucks, unbranded

Starbucks has built a tremendous brand over the last ten or so years. Love it or hate it, you know and understand what it means to walk into Starbucks. But what if you walked into a Starbucks that wasn’t a Starbucks. What if it was, say, 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea?

Starbucks has taken the radical step of opening a shop that is unbranded. Or rather, branded anew, with no references to Starbucks and their trademark drink menu, ordering system, odd-ball cup sizes, and style of interior and graphic design. The new venture is designed to create a new coffee shop in the style of old coffee shops. The whole thing is a learning experience, to find out what Starbucks has lost in its rise to prominence.

It’s an experiment. And a bold one at that.

15th Ave won’t simply be a Starbucks in disguise. There are a few on-the-ground differences:

Coffee served at 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea is roasted in small batches and brewed within days of roasting. (Coffee served at Starbucks is roasted in mega-huge industrial machines and could be months before it is brewed in-store.)

Espresso served at 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea is drawn from a classic La Marzocco machine and baristas will add latte art flair to drinks. (Starbucks uses automated espresso machines and baristas are too busy to add latte art touches to espresso drinks.)

Passion for coffee oozes at 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea. Limited-edition roasts are served through single-serving low-tech brewers (pour-over, press pots) or a high-tech brewer (Clover). (Starbucks uses large-scale brewers to mass brew gallons at a time.)

Pastries served at 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea are from a local bakery. Baked daily and delivered daily. (Starbucks sells lots of “thaw and serve” pastries baked in far-off places that are then frozen, packed, and shipped to stores for serving days later.)

Ambiance at 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea will be warm, welcoming, eclectic, and subtle. (Ambiance at nearly every Starbucks is uniformly clean, cold, and sterile.)

A post on Brand Autopsy calls these “re-learning opportunities.” Lofty, but appropriate. An Article from the Seattle Times offers further insight.

This idea reminds me of the unbranded McDonald’s adventure Quarter Pounder, which hit the streets of Tokyo last Fall.

So perhaps the future of franchises and chain food stores isn’t an army of clone shops, but a web of mini-brands. What if you could get the charm of a local shop, but the organisation and discipline of a national chain? That might be a powerful notion which would bring the best of both worlds to consumers.