Starbucks chief Howard Schultz greets fans, heckler in Issaquah
April 12, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Starbucks chief Howard Schultz and a disgruntled Seattle Sonics fan came face to face in Issaquah last week, as the coffee company president and CEO — and former basketball team owner — inscribed books at Costco.
The heckler cursed at Schultz and shouted, “You betrayed the whole city of Seattle!” before Costco employees and a police officer whisked the man out of the store during the otherwise-quiet event. Schultz smiled and signed “Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul” — a bestselling account of Starbucks’ turnaround — for other patrons.
Schultz, a former Sonics owner, sold the team to Oklahoma City investors in 2006. Feelings about the decision remain raw among some Seattle-area basketball fans.
Costco employees and off-duty Issaquah police officers steered people in Sonics regalia away from the signing table. Overall, about 200 people turned out for the early afternoon appearance.
“Sonicsgate” producer Adam Brown showed up in a Sonics ball cap and filmed the book signing on a handheld camera, before security intervened.
“They saw my hat, and I walked to the back of the line, and then after about 10 seconds, they came and kicked me out,” Brown said. “They wouldn’t tell me anything about why, and I said, ‘Is it because of my clothes? Is it because I’m wearing Sonics stuff?’ and they were just like, ‘Howard Schultz has asked that you leave the premises.’”
“Sonicsgate” is a 2009 documentary film about the NBA franchise’s relocation to Oklahoma City and reincarnation as the Oklahoma City Thunder. Brown produced the film alongside director Jason Reid.
“I have no beef with Costco, and I have no beef with the police officers or anything, but it’s just pretty funny that Howard would single me out for being the only guy wearing a Sonics hat and have me booted,” Brown added.
Other people arrived too late to meet Schultz. The initial publicity material for the appearance included a 1 p.m. start time, but signs at the store said noon, and Schultz started inscribing books before noon.
Elise Woodward, a host on KJR-AM Sports Radio, arrived in a green-and-gold Sonics T-shirt just as Shultz departed.
“I just wanted to ask Howard Schultz why he wouldn’t be accountable to the fans,” she said later.
Some attendees turned out meet the man responsible for transforming Starbucks from a small coffee shop in Pike Place Market into a global behemoth.
Schultz joined Starbucks as director of marketing in 1982. In 2000, he stepped down from daily oversight of the company, but returned as CEO eight years later as the company foundered.
Starbucks’ distinctive mermaid logo adorns the cover and, inside the cover, the book features bitter headlines about the company’s troubles during the last decade. The title comes from the word Shultz uses to sign company memos.
“Onward” reached No. 1 on The New York Times’ Best Sellers hardcover nonfiction list for April 17.
The stories about business acumen and Starbucks lore attracted company employees Sarah Gallagher and Katie Whitlock to Costco early.
Starbucks sent special editions of the book to employees — or partners in company lingo. Gallagher and Whitlock met the CEO and chatted for a moment as Schultz inscribed the copies.
Whitlock, a Carnation resident and a barista at a Redmond Town Center shop, prepared a drink for the boss once, although she did not realize it at the time.
“‘You know that was Howard Schultz?’” she recalled surprised coworkers asking.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.