Reaching for the stars: How Starbucks plans to master the micro kitchen

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A new Starbuck’s store in London is the first in Europe to offer no fewer than five special brewing methods and a range of food freshly prepared in its own micro kitchen. The design gurus involved in its creation are confident they’ve struck upon a winning foodservice formula.

London’s bustling Covent Garden has always been a place of connection and contrasts — where past meets present, design meets culture, and fashion meets entertainment.

Starbucks’ latest store at Upper St. Martin’s Lane unites those worlds, promoting interaction between the famous American coffee chain’s partners and the loyal customers that regard it as the place to go to for their caffeine fix. But it is also significant for something else: a striking open kitchen that offers customers a menu of freshly-prepared food for breakfast, lunch and evenings.

And with floor-to-ceiling walls of glass visually linking the interior to the happenings on the street outside, every element of the foodservice process is laid bare. Ad de Hond, vice-president of design at Starbucks, calls the store a “platform of connection”, explaining that the production areas and customer zones blend into one. “Everything in the store is visible — the way we make our coffees, the way we prepare and present our food, and the way we interact with our customers,” he says.

Starbucks Upper St Martins interiorWhen walking through the large double-doors of the Upper St. Martin’s Lane store, it’s not necessarily the kitchen that a customer will notice first but the absence of a cash register queue. Instead, customers are greeted by a host who will invite them to sit down if they are not ordering for take-away.

“The special thing is that we moved our partners [employees] from behind the bar into the store,” explains de Hond. “Customers can order wherever and whenever they want through handheld devices. We hope to reduce the idea of standing in line,” he adds.

The London outlet is inspired by the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room, a 15,000 square foot space in Seattle that is dedicated to roasting, coffee education and increasing availability of the company’s small-lot Reserve coffees. Every Reserve coffee bean sold to customers is roasted in the facility.

But as the presence of a larger-than-usual open kitchen suggests, foodservice is also regarded as a crucial aspect of the new set-up. With numerous other café chains increasing their food offerings or positioning themselves as places to eat as well as buy coffee, Starbucks is keen to ensure that it doesn’t lose customers to well-rounded competitors.

The size of the kitchen and layout indicates the scale and volume that we envisage this kitchen to produce”

One of the main architects behind the design and creation of the catering component is Rachel Chatterton, research and development manager for food and beverage at Starbucks (below). Her role has involved constructing the food, wine and drinks menus for the store, identifying the key trends in these areas, and understanding how the store can bring those to life in its menus to offer consumers something new.

“We wanted to select food items that represent what we want our Starbucks Reserve brand to stand for,” she explains. “As part of this, we worked with suppliers and the in-store partner team to carefully select food items that can be paired with wine and craft beers that complement each other. Our objective was to find methods of food preparation that are operationally feasible but great tasting for our customers. We also sought to incorporate flavours from the USA into the menu as a link to our heritage as a local company. We acknowledge our location in London by including two local London craft beers in our menu.”Rachel Chatterton,research and development manager for food and beverage

The unit is the first that Starbucks operates in central London to offer freshly-prepared food on site throughout the day, relying on equipment from combi oven maker Houno, which was specified in Denmark by the factory and supplied through the UK division.

Our store team of 30 employees underwent a month-long training course learning how to operate new kitchen equipment and new coffee-brewing methods”

The menu includes sandwiches, pastries and wraps, as well as a range of hot pods and salads. A newly-launched Starbucks Evenings offer, serving wine and beer until 9pm, includes a string of dishes priced from £6.95 (for Texan pulled beef chilli) to £9.95 (for a charcuterie sharing platter).

Chatterton regards the fact that customers can see its food and coffee being freshly prepared in front of them as a key feature of the store.

Starbucks store targets 1“It is a significant step change from our traditional store format as it allows customers to see the pride our partners have in preparing food and coffee. We believe this transparency makes our food offering more attractive to customers while remaining practical for partners. For example, we have placed our Black Eye espresso machines at a lower level so that customers can see their coffee being made in their eye-line, adding to the theatre of the store. The size of the kitchen and layout indicates the scale and volume that we envisage this kitchen to produce.”

Prior to launch, Starbucks arranged for staff to get up to speed with the kit they are now using on a daily basis.
“As this format is so new, our store team of 30 employees underwent a month-long training course learning how to operate new kitchen equipment and new coffee-brewing methods,” says Chatterton. “Partners also participated in extensive food hygiene courses and wine sommelier courses.”

Starbucks foodJeffrey Young, managing director of research firm Allegra Strategies, told FEJ that the creation of a more extensive kitchen area will make the store more competitive against the string of independent, artisan coffee shops that are springing up on UK high streets, although he suggests the model will be selectively rolled out to new stores.

“It follows a clear trend that we are seeing in the foodservice industry at the moment, which is this culture of adding food to coffee. It’s about extending the offer to attract additional customers beyond those looking for coffee.”

Young says that opportunities exist for chains such as Starbucks to make the best use of their assets, and striking a more balanced food-inspired mix is one way of achieving this. “It’s certainly a big shift in terms of moving the concept from food that is supplied and displayed to items that are prepared on site,” he comments.

Starbucks Upper St Martins interior nightOpen kitchen aside, it goes without saying that Starbucks’ biggest pull is still its coffee. All baristas are certified Coffee Masters, who handcraft espresso beverages from a manual Black Eagle espresso machine. The unique taste profiles from small-lot Starbucks Reserve coffees come to life with premium brewing methods such as pour-over, Siphon and Chemex.

Upper St. Martin’s Lane also serves specialty beverages such as Shakerato, Sparkling Mint Espresso and flights of coffee to allow customers to conduct side-by-side tastings of coffees from around the world.

Starbucks has badged it a one-of-a-kind ‘coffee theatre’, but it’s the performance of its new food menu that could provide the greatest insight into what its future might look like.

Key features of new central London store

•     First Starbucks store to serve freshly-prepared food from morning pastries and lunchtime salads to Starbucks Evenings Menu offering beer and wine.

•     Coffee bar with ‘arena-style’ seating designed to display industry-leading brewing methods: the Clover, Black Eagle, Syphon, Chemex and Pour Over.

•     No order point or queue: customers can order from wherever they are in store and enjoy the range of freshly-prepared food and drinks available from morning through to evening.

•     Customer experience enhanced by latest technology, including Mobile Order and Pay, Powermat Wireless Charging and the “fastest WiFi on the high street”.

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