Issaquah Starbucks is only suburban store to offer beer, wine

October 18, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Libations from Oregon and Washington breweries and vineyards command attention from the counter at Starbucks, as unmistakable as the coffee mugs and roasted beans elsewhere in the store.

Rick Hartwigsen (left), from Dallas, and Lauren Forsythe, of Kirkland, drink wine at Starbucks in the Meadows Shopping Center on Northwest Gilman Boulevard. By Greg Farrar

The redesigned and renovated Starbucks at the Meadows complex along Northwest Gilman Boulevard represents the latest step in a bold experiment to expand menu offerings — and the bottom line — by offering beer and wine alongside cappuccinos and lattes.

The store is among a handful in the United States — and the only Starbucks outside of Seattle and Portland, Ore. — to offer beer and wine. If the experiment in a suburban market is successful, the concept could expand to other cities.

The store started offering alcohol in afternoons and evenings late last month, after a monthslong project to remake the space.

The changes start at the menu and continue throughout the store. The salvaged floor from a high school gymnasium is repurposed as a tabletop. The most prominent art piece is salmon-inspired, and neutral tones dominate.

Other touches nod to changes in customer behavior. The store includes more electrical outlets than before to accommodate customers’ laptop computers and other gadgets.

Harry Klages, regional director for Starbucks stores from Black Diamond to Duvall, said company executives and employees expect feedback from customers about the revamp.

“Our customers, they’re not shy about sharing their opinions,” Starbucks spokeswoman Stacey Krum added as baristas, or partners in Starbucks lingo, plated snacks and poured wine behind the counter on a recent afternoon.

Starbucks also added a Clover brewing system — a subject of much discussion among local coffee aficionados. The stainless steel machine uses a vacuum process to produce a cup of coffee considered superior to a drip coffee maker.

The alcohol menu is focused on Pacific Northwest beers and wines. Observers said the concept is all but certain to expand if it’s successful at the Meadows store.

“I think it’s going to grow,” said Melody Overton, a Seattle blogger behind StarbucksMelody.com, a popular fan site. “If it works in Issaquah, they’ll find more places where it can go.”

Employees at the expanded-menu Starbucks must undergo Mandatory Alcohol Server Training through the Washington State Liquor Control Board. Moreover, company policy requires for employees serving beer and wine to be at least 21.

Dan Geiman, a Starbucks analyst for Seattle brokerage firm McAdams Wright Ragen, said offering beer and wine makes sense for Seattle-based Starbucks.

“One of the things they’ve tried to do over the years is expand their day parts and expand sales in the afternoon and evening, and outside of the normal morning rush,” he said. “I think that this is potentially something that accomplishes that. I think it fits in well with their target consumer as well.”

The decision to serve alcohol also represents a gamble for the global coffee company, he added.

“They risk diluting their message and what they’re trying to do,” Geiman continued. “I think part of their strategy over the last few years has been getting back to basics and getting rid of some of the clutter in the stores and honing their offerings a little bit — getting back to that coffee culture. This, arguably, is a little bit of a step away from that.”

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