Labor Day in Austin – Local Coffee and Starbucks

From time to time, Jenni and I receive an envelope in the mail with a short note and newspaper clipping from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.  Her parents reside in Lubbock, and whenever her dad sees anything that might be of interest to us, he mails it our way.  Typically it’s a photo or story about someone we know, but most recently he sent us an article, by Jim Hightower, on a new concept that Starbucks is rolling out in attempt to ‘be local’.  This is just one of many ‘throw-it-atthe-wall-andsee-what-sticks’ corporate strategies they have executed in the past few years. 

Let me go ahead and say, I know many Starbucks’ bashers in the coffee industry, and I do not consider myself one of them.  Firstly, because I do not view them as direct competition to our business, as Starbucks competes more with the likes of McDonald’s than local high-quality roasters.  And secondly, because they helped to start the specialty coffee trend (before they diverted) that local roasters, like myself, are trying to implant and turn into something that is more than a trend. 

Now back to Mr. Hightower’s article, he explains that Starbucks, with their latest maneuver, is trying to fake authentic ‘local feels’ that many independent coffee shops create.  He asserts that it will fail because you cannot fake local.  According to Mr. Hightower, Starbucks hired market researchers to investigate and steal ‘community personality’ in other local coffee shops. 

He ends the article by contrasting Starbucks’ local approach with his nearby Starbucks, in Austin, that is adjacent to a Jiffy Lube.  He quips that it is seemingly functioning in a ‘symbiotic partnership’, which he calls a ‘poetic juxtaposition’.  The article is good and it poses an interesting question about the local movement, “Can you fake it?”  I am not sure I agree with the assertion that it is doomed to fail.  I have witnessed and read of uncountable ‘successful’ corporate deceptions in the coffee industry, and if anyone can pull it off, it is Starbucks.

Stay with me… this ties into my Labor Day trip, I promise.  This past weekend, Jenni, Blaise and I went to the Hill Country for a friend’s wedding, and we decided to extend it by a day or two and take our first mini-vacation since going to Panama last June (on a work-induced vacation).  You can imagine my excitement when, after blowing past our hotel’s exit, I hit a quick u-turn right in front of this poetic juxtaposition:


Jenni and Jiffybucks

Jenni and Jiffybucks

While in Austin, we were able to break away from the local Jiffybucks to visit some authentic coffee shops (which everyone should do when in Austin), so I’ll leave Starbucks alone for now… 

In Austin, many people know of Caffe Medici (which was good), but I had my first taste of two other shops that I really enjoyed, in particular.  Little City is on Congress near the Capital and Once Over Coffee Bar is on South 1st Street.  Rob, the owner of Once Over, was buzzing behind the bar, and he showed a much-appreciated intentional and methodical approach to his coffee brewing. 

Little City roasts their own beans (which will always get points in my book) and Once Over uses Cuvee Coffee (as does Caffe Medici and seemingly half of Austin’s coffee shops).  These two shops are definitely worth checking out if you find yourself in Austin.


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