Can Starbucks Survive Outside of Milan?

To many, and in particular those with little imagination, the idea that Starbucks could open in Italy seemed far-fetched. The Americanised concept set up by Howard Schultz in the late 80s represented a different coffee culture, an idea where the word, Venti became a bastardised pop culture reference of Western gluttony and where coffee houses became new age offices.

It was Italy that inspired, Schultz, however. A business trip that turned a coffee rep into a brand builder and, much questioned CEO. His skill, to see something that others did not see and turn that vision into a global icon. The medusa ruled America, found homes in Europe and asia, and became a target of new age globalisation protests.

In other words, a modern American success story.

Globalisation has abandoned Italy. Most of it anyway. The apparent benefits of “easing income disparity” and “creating opportunities”, the usual phrases thrown about by the “capitalism at any cost” brigade hadn’t had experience with the peninsula and its languid socio-political system.

Northern cities like Turin and Milan prospered. Their pan European and global outlook helped distinguish their local culture and their proximity to Switzerland, France, Austria has also arguably helped more than any local politico ever could.

With that comes a difference of how things are done. There is a distinct contrast between these northern towns and, Italia. Coffee culture, arguably has a national language; the short quick shot, the muted conversations and the quickfire debate that encourages friendship is present in bars across the land but then, Milan is still that bit ‘unique’. It is a capital of fashion, it has zero issues with trying things first and it isn’t scared to break from the norm when it feels it needs to.

It is then the perfect backdrop to have a global coffee chain come and break ranks. Actually, you could say that it yearns for it. It wants to be distinctly different and with that, accepting Starbucks is nothing new. Milan has tea rooms, sushi restaurants, food courts and more than one McDonald’s.

For a nation that holds dear to tradition, Milan is the combative brother. That’s not a bad thing but it makes what Starbucks is doing a little easier. Southern cities struggle with infrastructure and order, central towns have issues with burdensome local government, designed to stifle anything resembling, advancement and the majority of other northern cities want to shape their own identity; playing in the local thoughts, sounds and vision.

It is here, in these towns and cities where tradition collides with the new, clasping at what made them the places they are and yet, possibly yearning for more. Italy’s heartland is unequivocally a more rugged land to conquer.

And then there is this Milan based Starbucks. It is not your ordinary, airport/city centre find; the “perfect franchise model” where you can expect the red cup from November or that its own constructed traditions are globally recognised. Pumpkin Spiced Latte…

This is a boutique. A roasters as well as a workshop. A different yet familiar place where the brand is allowed to be that more Italian, and is expected to be as well.

Maybe then, with all the global success, this is the one that Schultz wants. Given a choice between the years spent crafting a global message about coffee or finding success in the backyard where he first thought about the medusa, something points to the later as meaning the most.

It’s the closing of a circle, a dynasty created by coffee beans and changing culture. A vision that took people out of the static 9 – 5 and pioneered a global shift to a different working environment. Italy is the final hurdle, possibly the biggest there could be. Success there would be Schultz’s Magnus Dei.

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Remo Sheffield