Starbucks’ brief closing has limited effects

Yalies craving their usual venti nonfat Caramel Macchiatos with whipped cream Tuesday night might have been disappointed to find the oft-frequented doors of both of the local Starbucks on Chapel Street closed. But with other local coffee vendors responding with special promotions, there was no short supply of lattes and espressos near campus.

Starbucks closed approximately 7,100 of its branches throughout the country, including those in New Haven, from 5:30 to 9:00 Tuesday night for in-store retraining sessions for more than 135,000 employees. Meanwhile, some local coffee shops, such as The Publick Cup and Dunkin’ Donuts, seized the opportunity to draw in more customers through special offers on coffee beverages. Starbucks’ closure brought a welcome — if temporary — increase in business to at least one vendor, although another reported no significant impact.

Students interviewed said they were glad to take advantage of the offers, but they do not think they are any more or less likely to frequent different coffee shops.

The Publick Cup, which offered free eight-ounce coffees, cappuccinos, lattes and double espressos from 5:30 to 8:30, made more money than the shop normally does during the same time frame, said Tracy Jackson, the store’s owner. Jackson explained that The Publick Cup, which partly attracted customers with a promotional ad outside the Starbucks near Old Campus, distributed 167 free drinks and drew in new faces that she hopes will return to the store. But she said the boost appears to have been short-lived.

“I haven’t seen a huge increase in business since then,” she said.

Like many of its fellow stores nationwide, a local Dunkin’ Donuts branch on Chapel Street between York and Howe streets offered a 99-cent special price for small lattes and cappuccinos, said the store’s manager, who asked to remain anonymous. But, noting that the shop neither gained nor lost business with the promotion, he said he thinks his store is far enough away from both Chapel Street Starbucks sites that it avoided any significant impact from the temporary closing.

Interviewed students who patronized The Publick Cup on Tuesday night said they enjoyed getting free coffee, though the event would probably not change their coffee-drinking habits and allegiances.

Although some students might have found Starbucks’ closure inconvenient, Jessie Fried ’09 said she probably would not have gone to Starbucks on Tuesday anyway. Fried said she decided to go to The Publick Cup simply to take advantage of the free coffee. But she said she is “probably not” more likely to return to the coffee shop after its Tuesday promotion.

Representatives from other coffee vendors on or around campus, such as the Thain Family Cafe in Bass Library, Willoughby’s Coffee and Tea and other nearby Dunkin’ Donuts branches, were not available Sunday night to comment on how Starbucks’ closure did or did not impact business at their shops.

According to Starbucks’ press release, the company decided to hold the three-hour employee training session, titled “Espresso Excellence,” to provide a renewed focus on espresso standards, to promote beverage standards, and to energize employees and transform the customer experience.

“The very heart of the Starbucks Experience is the connection our baristas have with our customers through a shared passion of exceptional coffee,” Howard Schultz, chairman, president and CEO of Starbucks, said in the press release. “We are reaffirming our coffee leadership, and neither we nor our customers will settle for the status quo.”

Jackson said she thinks Starbucks’ closing was a good idea for the java-shop giant. She said she thinks the Starbucks chain, a “leader in the specialty coffee industry,” realized the quality of its products was suffering and decided to make a move to revive its image, refocusing its efforts on the real essence of its business — coffee — by re-instructing baristas in the art of beverage-making.

“Places like McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts were becoming competitors because they were offering pretty similar drinks,” Jackson said.

She added that, as an independent coffee shop, The Publick Cup can “do a lot of things differently” from Starbucks to distinguish itself and to attract customers, namely by putting an emphasis on high-quality and socially responsible beverages. Distinctions in espresso-making techniques provide a fitting example, she said.

“All along, we’ve always kept the art of the espresso in our store,” Jackson explained. The Publick Cup, she said, stays true to the traditional guidelines for espresso, which call for equal parts espresso and milk, whereas Starbucks tends to add more milk to its espresso drinks, making the coffee flavor weaker.

The Publick Cup changed its name from Koffee Too? in December.

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