By Colleen Barry, AP
MILAN — Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s vision for the chain was largely inspired by the coffee bars he saw on his first trip to Milan more than three decades ago. But it took the company growing to about 26,000 stores in 75 countries to win the credibility he felt necessary to make the leap into the country that gave espresso to the world.
“I didn’t think we were ready to come to Italy,” Schultz told The Associated Press in an interview Monday. “I think Italy is such a special place. I am so respectful of the Italian coffee heritage and the Italian culture, and I think we had to earn that respect, opportunity, and I think over the years we got to the point that we are now ready to come.”
As he prepares to step down as CEO in April, Schultz will focus on innovation. That includes a Milan location that will open in 2018 of what he called “the quintessential Roastery” — one of the high-end shops featuring in-house roasting and complex coffee drinks. The journey of 35 years, he said, completes “my own dream and the circle of Starbucks.”
In Italy, baristas generally make the coffee in full sight of the consumer, and hand brioche and other pastries across a glass case, often with a quip. Taking a seat in an Italian bar may incur an extra charge, especially in prime locations. There are few sugary embellishments and Wi-Fi access is spotty, at best.
It is not uncommon to see waiters with silver trays delivering coffee in porcelain cups covered with foil to neighboring business, a practice that underlies the rarity of the takeout coffee cup.
This sort of humanity attracted Schultz’s admiration on his first Milan visit. His response is to position the first Starbucks in Italy as a premium operation.
The Milan store at Piazza Cordusio will be among the early wave of up to 30 Roastery locations Starbucks says it expects to open around the world. The Milan store will launch a new partnership with an Italian partner, the Princi baker, offering deli food and baked goods. The first Roastery is in Seattle, with others announced for Shanghai, New York and Tokyo.
Besides mainstay espresso drinks, Schultz hopes customers will be attracted by specialized brewing techniques developed by Starbucks that are not typical in Italy.